Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite has slammed the Commonwealth Bank, calling on it to be stripped of its long-running partnership with the Australian of the Year awards.
Thistlethwaite, who serves as deputy chair on the Standing Committee on Economics, has had a front-row seat beside Liberal MP Tim Wilson during the parliamentary grilling of the big four banks, which has run in tandem to the financial services royal commission.
He is now saying ‘enough is enough’ and wants the National Australia Day Council to review CBA’s sponsorship of the Australia Day awards.
“Australia Day is a day when we reflect on what it means to be Australian and what our key Australian values are. One of those is the fair go, and a generosity of spirit and we award people with honours on that day,” Thistlethwaite told YourMoney.com.au.
“Given the revelations of the royal commission and the meetings that I have had with bank victims, I don’t believe that it’s appropriate that CBA’s logo is plastered all over Australia Day celebrations,” he explained.
CBA has been at the forefront of the big banks’ bad behaviour, with its wealth management arm Colonial First State admitting the bank would be the “gold medalist” if medals were given for charging fees-for-no-service, including to deceased clients.
It does beg the question: would Thistlethwaite be demanding the National Australia Day Council make a review if it were another big four bank sponsoring the event?
“Look unfortunately CBA has been the worst offender in recent years and the most scandal-plagued, not only in the royal commission but in terms of parliamentary hearings and regulatory inquiries,” Thistlethwaite admitted.
“APRA conducted their own specific review into the culture of the Commonwealth Bank and I think that says it all about this bank’s prominence in some of the scandal and ripoff.”
“The other point is that they’re responsible for the largest corporate fine in Australia’s history in the wake of AUSTRAC and some of the other banks to date don’t seem to have been involved in that level of scandal.”
The last straw
However, the MP confessed that it was the latest revelation made by CBA chair Catherine Livingstone during her testimony that, for him, proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“To be honest it’s because I heard last week that the former chairman David Turner who presided over a lot of the wrongdoing was asked to return 40 per cent of his chairman’s fee which I think is about $870,000 and he said, ‘no’,” Thistlethwaite said.
Livingstone told the royal commission that Turner, who served as chairman between 2010 and 2016, had approved more than $14 million in executive bonuses in just 10 minutes despite the scandals plaguing the bank.
When confronted on this fact and others documented in an ASIC report, Turner was asked to hand back part of his own remuneration.
He flatly refused this request, reportedly arguing the scathing ASIC report was not reflective of the board he had overseen.
“I just thought you greedy bugger. That says everything about the culture of the CBA over the last decade,” Thistlethwaite said.
The incident strengthened the MP’s resolve to see the bank disassociated with the prestigious Australia Day awards, which according to the National Council, recognise “leading citizens who are role models for us all.”
That purpose, to Thistlethwaite, doesn’t ring true of its major sponsor and the CBA executives who failed to stop the bank’s misconduct.
“I think Australians have been horrified and they rightfully want justice to be done and they want changes to be made,” he said.
With the royal commission’s last public hearing to wrap up on Friday and its final report to be handed down in February, it remains to be seen what recommendations it will make.
What will continue however will be the legal requirement for the big four banks to front up to Canberra at least once a year for review.
It’s a measure that the deputy chair hopes will be rendered unnecessary by ensuing banking reforms.
“I’d like to hope that there’s no need for the bank executives to appear before the House of Representatives’ economics committee to justify their behaviours [and] that we get a solid set of recommendations out of the commission.”
The National Australia Day Council declined to comment.