Australia boosts regulator funding after bank scandals

2 min

Sydney (AFP)

Australia Wednesday boosted funding to the corporate regulator by Aus$127.2 million (US$99 million) and appointed a special prosecutor to investigate financial crime, in sweeping reforms prompted by public outrage over numerous bank scandals.

The nation's major banks -- which regularly rake in multi-billion-dollar profits -- have been under scrutiny following a series of consumer fraud allegations involving financial planning as well as claims of interbank lending interest rate rigging.

The announcement by the conservative administration also came ahead of impending national elections, tipped to be held on July 2, that are expected to be hotly contested by the Labor opposition that is calling for a royal commission into banking misconduct.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government recognised that "our banks have not always lived up to the standards we expect".

"That's why we are continuing to act to ensure our regulators are tough cops on the beat with the resources and powers they need to respond to misconduct and prosecute those who seek to take advantage of consumers," he said in a statement.

Morrison told reporters in Canberra that Aus$121 million of the additional funding would be footed by the banks.

The sweeping reforms include switching to an industry-funded model for Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) from mid-2017 instead of taxpayer funding.

A special prosecutor would also be appointed to look into alleged criminal activity in the financial services industry.

Leading financial institutions, including the nation's largest lender the Commonwealth Bank, have hit the headlines in recent years with some of them facing allegations of dodgy financial advice and life insurance, and mortgage fraud.

ASIC, like its counterparts in the United States and Britain, has also been probing multinational banks over benchmark interest rate rigging. The regulator recently hauled two major lenders, Westpac and ANZ, to court over allegations they manipulated the interbank lending rate.

Despite Labor pressure for a royal commission into banking misconduct and a recent Fairfax/Ipos poll showing a majority of voters supported such an inquiry, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former investment banker, has so far resisted such a push.

Labor leader Bill Shorten Wednesday dismissed the government's announcement, saying there was a "culture of unaccountability and arrogance" in the financial sector that only a royal commission could address.