Royal commission risky, poor option: banks

The chief executives of Commonwealth Bank and ANZ expressed themselves in very different ways but their message to MPs was the same.

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There’s no need for a royal commission.

CBA’s Ian Narev bristled at suggestions there might be a need for a wide-ranging review of the banking industry, pointing out that the similarly exhaustive Financial System Inquiry was published less than three years ago.

“What has happened since all that work was done by the Financial System Inquiry which could cause us to reach very different conclusions?” he asked.

ANZ chief Shayne Elliott simply reasoned that it is easier and quicker to tackle problems faced by customers on an issue-by-issue basis.

“If the outcome is to make real change in the industry for the benefit of customers, we think the current approach is better: targeted, shorter reviews which are actually focused on customer outcomes,” Mr Elliott said.

‘We think it is more effective to have narrowly focused, targeted reviews that get things done rather than involving us in a multi-year process with uncertain terms of reference.”

Mr Elliott said reform was occurring – citing the Ramsay Review into dispute resolution and the Carnell Review into small business lending – and said Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite was being unfair to suggest otherwise.

Nonetheless, Mr Elliott said he would have no problem if the competition watchdog was asked to start monitoring the banking sector on a systemic basis.

Mr Narev and National Australia Bank’s Andrew Thorburn used their second appearances before the review of the big four banks to dismiss the need for additional oversight, but Mr Elliott told the House of Representatives’ economics committee that he had no objection to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s involvement.

“I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Mr Elliott said.

Mr Elliott said that declining net interest margins – the difference between what a bank makes on loans and what it pays to fund them – and customer churn suggested that banking competition is already strong.

Mr Narev was even more explicit in his rejection of a royal commission when he spoke earlier on Tuesday, telling MPs that a royal commission would hit confidence among overseas lenders upon whom Australian banks rely for funds.

Those funds, Mr Narev said, are what banks loan out to “create the economic activity that will create jobs”.

“The message that the convening of a royal commission would send about policymakers over the last decade, regulators over the last decade, bank management and governments over the past decade would not be positive for the industry, would not be positive for strength and would not be positive for the perception of our industry as unquestionably strong,” Mr Narev said.

Mr Thistlethwaite accused banks of hiding behind commissioned reports into scandals such as those at CBA’s CommInsure unit, and told Mr Narev the banks had already damaged the industry themselves.

“You guys have done a pretty good job of destroying confidence in the banking industry over the past decade, haven’t you?” Mr Thistlethwaite asked.

Nicholls makes case to be next Qld premier

Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls has unofficially launched his election campaign by stressing he is a changed man and “ready to lead”.

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Speaking at a Queensland Media Club lunch, Mr Nicholls made his case to be the next premier by outlining his vision for the state under the Liberal National Party.

The former treasurer, whose assets leasing plan was rejected when the Newman government was deposed in the 2015 election, revealed five key priorities, six key drivers and a four-point plan in his impassioned speech.

Mr Nicholls said his party stood for “hope” as he distanced himself from his time as treasurer under the previous LNP government.

“In moving quickly we failed to take Queenslanders with us, and I acknowledge that we broke the trust of Queenslanders, and for that I am sorry,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr Nicholls said he had “learnt his lesson” on the issue of asset sales, but he stopped short of ruling them out completely if elected again.

“We have to, and we will, live within the means granted to us by the people of Queensland.”

But current Labor treasurer Curtis Pitt took aim at Mr Nicholls’ attempt to distance himself from the Newman era, saying he couldn’t just walk away from his actions as a minister.

“He says he’s a different person, but he’s the same person who sacked 14,000 (public servants) in his first budget,” Mr Pitt said.

“He can’t escape his past. He may want to forget he was Campbell Newman’s right-hand man, but Queenslanders won’t forget.”

While Mr Nicholls took aim at Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government for a lack of leadership, he failed to completely rule out future asset sales as an LNP policy.

Anna Bligh’s Labor government suffered one of the worst defeats in Australian electoral history in 2012 running on a campaign of assets sales, while the Newman government also paid the price for it in their upset 2015 defeat.

Mr Pitt himself again ruled out revisiting asset sales under a Labor government.

Mr Nicholls reiterated the LNP would not form a coalition with the resurgent One Nation party, which is polling at 23 per cent in the state, saying he was aiming for a majority government.

“I am aiming to get 47-plus seats … because that’s the only way you’re able to deliver the outcomes that will deliver a better Queensland,” he said.

The next state election is due by early 2018, but is widely expected to be called in the second half of this year.

TIM NICHOLLS’ PLAN FOR QUEENSLAND

* Five Key Priorities – Jobs; stronger families; more infrastructure; safer communities; and better, not bigger, government.

* Six Major Drivers of the state’s economy – tourism; resources; agriculture; construction and manufacturing; education; and services science and technology.

* A Four-Point Plan to tackle youth unemployment (previously announced) – a $5,000 Queensland Apprenticeship incentive for small business; $500 Tools for Tradies’ vouchers; a $4,000 Job Start Incentive; and discounts on Work Cover premiums for small business.

Docker Walters dreams of AFL flag in 2017

Fremantle forward Michael Walters is daring to dream of premiership success this year, saying the club is aiming high despite their disastrous 2016 campaign.

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The Dockers won just four games last season as their premiership window slammed shut.

Coach Ross Lyon has since declared the club is in rebuilding mode, saying it could take up to four years before the team is back in premiership mode.

But Walters doesn’t see any reason why the Dockers can’t compete for the flag this year.

Walters is so firm in his belief of the club’s bright future that he signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday, tying him to the Dockers until the end of 2020.

“We actually want to win the premiership this year,” Walters said.

“We’re not going out there to not win a premiership. We’re not going out there just trying to make top four, or even in the eight.

“We want to play finals and ultimately win a grand final.

“If if doesn’t happen this year, we’re going to come back next year and focus on the same things.

“We haven’t done all the training in the pre-season and off-season to just think about four years.

“We want to aim high, try to win this year.

“We understand it might take four years or longer. But on the flip side, it might take two years.”

The addition of recruits Brad Hill, Shane Kersten, Cam McCarthy, and Joel Hamling is expected to fast-track Fremantle’s rebuild.

And if Harley Bennell can finally overcome his calf issues, the Dockers will be bolstered by an A-class midfielder.

The return from injury of captain Nat Fyfe will give the Dockers a significant boost.

Walters, who wants to end his career as a one-club player, also looms as a key component to Fremantle’s finals hopes.

The 26-year-old led Fremantle’s goalkicking in 2013, 2015, and 2016, and has also spent more time in the midfield in recent seasons.

Walters’ rise was capped last month when he was voted into the club’s leadership group for the first time.

It’s in stark contrast to 2012 when Walters was banished to the WAFL for below-par fitness standards.

It proved to be the making of him with Walters’ determination to provide for his young family spurring him on.

“I had to grow up and mature as a person. It took my family for me to finally see it,” Walters said.

“I’m glad the club made that decision back then to send me back, even though at the time I didn’t really like it.

“I know it all started to fall back into place once I did get sent back. I haven’t really missed a beat since then.”

Fremantle will play their final match of the pre-season when they host Carlton at Domain Stadium on Friday night.

Trooper slams veterans’ info laws

An SAS trooper fears veterans will be mentally crushed if federal parliament passes laws to allow the government to release their personal information.

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The case of special forces soldier Evan Donaldson gained national attention last year when independent senator Jacqui Lambie used parliamentary privilege to accuse Defence of illegally stripping him of his rank, wages and career following an alleged assault during a secret training exercise.

Trooper Donaldson maintains Defence subjected his case to a cover-up and a misinformation campaign to discredit him over the past 7.5 years.

Last week, he received an offer of settlement for $1 million compensation and his legal costs, which are approaching $850,000. The agreement also recognises his service.

However, on Tuesday afternoon the department contacted him to say he will have to pay his legal costs up front and then will be reimbursed later.

“It almost killed us, getting to this point – the abuse of power by the department,” Trooper Donaldson told AAP, sitting next to his wife Phoebe.

“If that happened to us and we survived it, how many people have been crushed?”

Last week, a bill cleared parliament’s lower house with the support of Labor, which gives the Department of Veterans Affairs’ secretary the power to disclose otherwise protected information about an individual.

The government argues the measure is necessary to correct the public record.

Labor is now rethinking its support after the opposition referred Human Services Minister Alan Tudge to federal police to determine whether providing a journalist with a welfare recipient’s personal information was legal.

Trooper Donaldson, who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands, said the second part of bill was “designed to silence anyone who speaks out against maladministration”.

“I’ve felt betrayed,” the father-of-one said.

“The greatest threat to my life was my own government. Without a doubt.”

The South Lake Macquarie RSL sub-branch has a petition on change长沙楼凤,, signed by almost 3000 people urging senators to block the legislation.

The sub-branch is concerned that no independent privacy impact assessment has been carried out.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the bill, the Commonwealth Ombudsman expressed concern that the release of an individual’s personal information “has the potential to adversely affect veterans and ex-service personnel, particularly those who are already vulnerable”.

Comment has been sought from Defence Minister Marise Payne and Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan.

The Defence Force Welfare Association has called on the government to release a privacy assessment carried out by the Attorney-General’s Department.

It also wants an independent assessment, which it believes will help engender confidence among veterans.

“(It) will go a long way to achieving trust within the veterans community on this matter by addressing any shortcomings in protecting privacy,” executive director Alf Jaugietis said in a statement on Tuesday.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.

Cronk retirement news to Storm’s Bellamy

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy says veteran Storm halfback Cooper Cronk hasn’t told him about any plans for an early retirement at the end of the NRL season.

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Bellamy says he’s surprised by a report that Cronk may quit after this year’s World Cup, 12 months before the end of his contract to move to Sydney to be with his partner.

“I don’t know anything about that and I haven’t spoken to Cooper about it,” Bellamy said on Tuesday.

“I’d imagine if Cooper’s got something to tell me he’ll come and tell me when he’s ready.”

Bellamy said the 33-year-old, who has been with the Storm since 2004 and played 302 games, could play beyond 2018 when his current deal expired, provided his mind was willing.

Last season the Test No.7 won the Golden Boot award as the world’s best player.

“I don’t think there’s any limit on the time Cooper could play,” Bellamy said.

“He’s the ultimate professional and I wouldn’t like to put an age limit on him.

“It’s not only about the body; it’s about the mind.

“If there is any truth about it, he’s done a wonderful job for this club for a long period of time so what he would like to do, that’s what he will do and it will be with the club’s blessing.”

If Cronk did make a premature exit Bellamy felt the Storm would be well-placed to cover the halfback role without having to bring a player to the club.

He said youngsters Brodie Croft and Scott Drinkwater as well as five-eighth Ryley Jacks were options.

“I would be thinking that we are pretty happy with the way those guys are going.

“We signed Brodie at the start of last year thinking that he probably would be Cooper’s replacement if Cooper went as long as we thought he was going to go … I don’t think we would be looking outside the club.”

Farmers, banks seek climate clarity

The Turnbull government is facing pressure from its traditional backers in big business and rural industry to put a price on carbon emissions and inject greater certainty into energy policy.

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Commonwealth Bank boss Ian Narev has lamented the political inaction on climate change while the peak farming body added its voice to growing calls for a market-based mechanism to deal with emissions from electricity generation.

Major energy provider AGL Energy also on Tuesday endorsed carbon pricing in the form of an emissions intensity scheme to help fix the nation’s energy woes.

Mr Narev was quizzed about his bank’s environmental policies at a parliamentary hearing in Canberra, including why it does not take rising sea levels into account when considering the value of homes in low-lying areas.

“Even in our political environment people cannot agree on what the appropriate policies might be relating to the environment,” Mr Narev told the politicians.

“As a major bank it’s very difficult for us to be the instrument of implementing climate policy.”

The bank would face criticism if it started devaluing people’s homes on the basis of climate change risk, such as those in bushfire zones, but it did factor in environmental principles for other loans, he said.

CBA had in fact passed over or not renewed some loans solely because they didn’t comply with principles for managing environmental risks, and at the moment has about five times more exposure to renewables than coal.

ANZ boss Shayne Elliott said the bank was assessing the risk of rising sea levels and would take it into account when lending in future.

“We do absolutely run our business with that in mind,” he told the committee.

The bank took climate change into account when lending to businesses, he said, and would be less likely to hand out longer loans for new coal and fossil fuel projects given the regulatory uncertainty.

“We take climate change seriously. We believe there is a transition risk. We price that in,” he said.

The bank’s exposure to coal was declining, Mr Elliott said, accounting for around $1.5 billion of ANZ’s $900 billion balance sheet.

Meanwhile its exposure to renewable energy was “quickly growing”.

The National Farmers Federation told a separate inquiry the national electricity market is broken, citing recent blackouts and an “indefensible” spike in power prices.

It wants the government to reconsider its opposition to an emissions intensity scheme, which would impose a price on dirty generators, or another market-based mechanism to give certainty and ensure everyone can access affordable and reliable power.

“We want the market to sort it out. We want a technology-neutral approach. We don’t think what we’ve got is working,” NFF president Fiona Simson told ABC radio.

The government’s green bank says Australia’s electricity sector would respond to policy signals such as carbon pricing.

“A stable ‘bankable’ policy framework is necessary to promote investor confidence and capital availability and reduce risk, financing costs and the overall costs of the transition,” the Clean Energy Finance Corporation says in its submission to the Finkel inquiry.

The government argues an emissions intensity scheme will push up the price of power for business and households, while doing nothing to improve reliability.

FBI moves to investigate suspected hate crime on Sikh man in Seattle

The suspected hate crime shooting of a Sikh man at his home in Seattle at the weekend is now being pursued as a federal civil rights investigation, the FBI says.

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The Seattle Times newspaper reported that the partially-masked gunman, after exchanging words with the victim, said “Go back to your own country” before pulling the trigger, shooting him in the arm.

“The FBI is working with the Kent Police Department and will collect all available facts and evidence to determine if there is a federal civil-rights violation,” spokeswoman for the FBI’s Seattle office Amy Dietrich-Williams confirmed with The Seattle Times.

“As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”

The federal investigation will occur in conjunction with the criminal investigation being conducted by Kent police.

The daily also reported that police are continuing to search for the gunman.

Jasmit Singh, a leader of the Sikh community near Seattle, told The Seattle Times that the victim was released from hospital on Sunday after being treated for a gunshot wound to the arm.

“He is just very shaken up, both him and his family,” Singh said. 

“We’re all kind of at a loss in terms of what’s going on right now, this is just bringing it home. The climate of hate that has been created doesn’t distinguish between anyone.”

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The incident follows a shooting at a Kansas bar last month that killed 32-year-old engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, causing shockwaves felt around the country.

A second Indian engineer, Alok Madasani, was injured in the Kansas shooting carried out by a white gunman whom witnesses said screamed racial slurs and told his victims to “get out of my country” before opening fire.

New York-based national organisation the Sikh Coalition has applauded the decision to pursue the Seattle matter as a hate crime investigation.

“We are thankful for everything that local authorities are doing to locate the suspect and protect the Sikh community,” Program Manager Rajdeep Singh said.

“We are all accountable for what happened in Kent, Washington on Friday night,” Jasmit Singh added.

“From the gunman’s family and friends who can help bring him to justice, to our elected officials who create public policy at home and in Washington DC, we all must do more to confront this growing epidemic of hate violence.”

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has recorded a spike in bias-related incidents relating to harrassment and intimidation since President Trump was elected.

With AFP

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MP’s perks woes due to ‘telling the truth’

Victoria’s besieged ex-deputy speaker-turned-independent Don Nardella says he’s landed in trouble because “I told the truth to a journalist” about receiving parliamentary perks.

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The MP’s refusal to repay more than $100,000 in allowances he claimed for living outside his metropolitan Melton electorate cost him his spot in the parliamentary Labor Party on Tuesday.

Mr Nardella refused to talk to journalists at parliament, telling two reporters to “f*** off” when they asked him for comment.

But he has talked to his electorate’s local Star Weekly newspaper.

In an article on the newspaper’s website on Tuesday, Mr Nardella said he applied for the second residence allowance after moving to Ocean Grove when his relationship fell apart and that it was in the rules.

“I would not have claimed, I would not have filled out the forms or provided the information that parliament requested me to provide if that was not the case,” he said.

He said he told the Clerk of the Parliament on Monday he would no longer claim the allowance.

“The reason I’m in this position is because I told the truth to a journalist,” he told Star.

When asked if he would apologise to voters, he replied: “What am I apologising about?”

He resigned from Labor in parliament after Premier Daniel Andrews again demanded he repay the money.

He will now sit on the cross bench.

Mr Nardella’s future in the ALP is also in doubt, with Mr Andrews telling the lower house MP to speak with the state secretary.

Mr Nardella and former Speaker Telmo Languiller quit their roles 10 days ago after they were caught claiming the second residence allowance, given to MPs in electorates more than 80km from Melbourne – despite holding metropolitan seats.

Their resignations forced the government to find replacements when parliament resumed on Tuesday.

Member for Bundoora Colin Brooks was voted Speaker.

His appointment came under attack from the opposition after he booted out Liberal Brad Battin for the rest of the sitting week with docked pay within minutes of becoming Speaker.

The audit committee will examine the claims made by Mr Nardella and Mr Languiller.

Mr Nardella claimed more than $100,000 after saying he lived in Ocean Grove since April 2014, about 100km from the CBD.

Mr Languiller claimed more than $37,000 for living in Queenscliff instead of his electorate of Tarneit for most of 2016, however he says he’ll pay it back.

But Liberal leader Matthew Guy says an audit committee does not go far enough.

His bid for a select committee was knocked back in parliament and he is also calling for a criminal investigation.

“I want to know if there’s been any matters of fraud committed in this whole affair, in this sleazy affair and I want this matter now to be referred to the Victoria Police to ascertain whether or not any matters of criminality have occurred,” Mr Guy told reporters.

Rates to hold in 2017 despite GDP rebound

A prominent economist believes 2017 should be a year of prosperity for Australia as the country benefits from China “throwing the kitchen sink” to stimulate its economy.

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But the good news on growth isn’t about to translate into higher interest rates just yet.

That’s the view of economist Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics as the Reserve Bank left its official cash rate at a record low 1.5 per cent at Tuesday’s monthly board meeting.

Mr Richardson said the good news facing Australia has already led to a surge in commodity prices, resulting in monthly trade surpluses in Australia.

“Trust me, that’s going to last through 2017,” Mr Richardson told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences Outlook 2017 conference in Canberra.

“There is a chance we may get to a current account surplus for the first time since the early 1970s.”

Central bank governor Philip Lowe issued a fairly balanced post-board meeting statement, saying the labour market remains mixed with the jobless rate having been steady around 5.75 per cent over the past year and inflation likely to stay low for some time because of subdued wages growth.

Dr Lowe said housing market conditions vary considerably across the country with prices rising briskly in some markets, but declining in others.

Growth in rents is the slowest for two years, borrowing by housing investors has picked up in recent months, and lending standards have strengthened.

“The board judged that holding the stance of policy unchanged at this meeting would be consistent with sustainable growth in the economy and achieving the inflation target over time,” Dr Lowe said.

Mr Richardson expects the US Federal Reserve will raise interest rates three or four times this year, with Australia eventually following suit.

“It may start in the US, but it will eventually spread around the world and perhaps to Australia come 2018 and 2019.”

Last week’s Australian national accounts showed the economy bounced back by 1.1 per cent in the December quarter after a rare contraction in the previous three months, avoiding a technical recession, but Australians appear unimpressed.

Consumer confidence tumbled 4.4 per cent in the past week, according to the latest ANZ-Roy Morgan survey.

“The ongoing weakness in wage growth has likely weighed on consumers’ perception of their finances,” ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said.

Confidence is a pointer to future retail spending.

Woman, son, 7, die in NSW head-on crash

A woman and her seven-year-old son have died while his twin sister is in hospital after they were involved in a horror head-on crash on the Hume Highway as they were on their way to school.

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The two-car collision occurred at Pheasants Nest, southwest of Sydney, before 8am on Tuesday, closing the highway’s southbound lanes for more than four hours.

The driver of a Mazda 4WD, named in media reports as 49-year-old Julie Bullock, died at the scene. Her two children, seven-year-old twins Hudson and Sienna, had to be freed from the vehicle by emergency workers.

The driver of a Holden car, also a 49-year-old woman, was trapped for some time as well, before she and Hudson were taken to Liverpool Hospital in a critical condition.

However, Hudson died several hours later.

Sienna was in a stable condition on Tuesday night at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Seven Network reported her father Darren was at her bedside.

The Holden driver remained at Liverpool Hospital where she was in a serious condition.

According to media reports, Ms Bullock had been taking her two children to Wollondilly Anglican College.

Headmaster Stuart Quarmby told Seven the twins had a special bond.

“They are and were great kids and we are deeply shocked and disturbed by this tragedy,” Dr Quarmby said.

A witness to the crash told News Corp Australia he and other drivers stopped to help get the kids out of the car, which was upside down.

“A truckie pulled off the dashboard because the mum was trapped, to try and pull her out,” he said.

“The boy told us it was his twin sister.”

A caller to Sydney’s 2GB radio described seeing a car’s tyre marks leading from the northbound lanes of the highway through the centre nature strip and on to the southbound lane.

“Both cars were absolutely totalled,” the witness said.