The National party has used the bank levy to try to build a fundraising war chest in anticipation of a mining tax-style political campaign from the major banks.
In an email to members and supporters, long-time bank accountability campaigner and NSW senator John Williams has called for donations to fight a scare campaign from the banks following budget measures to bring greater accountability and levy a $6.2bn tax.
“I might be just a broken-down old shearer, but I’ve spent a lot of my time in the Senate fighting to hold the big banks to account and to clean up the industry,” Williams writes in the email.
“We know they’re going to come out swinging. With $30bn in profits last year alone they have some serious money to spend on scare campaigns.”
Williams said it was taxpayers who guaranteed bank deposits up to $1m during the global financial crisis.
“We won’t be backing down and we need your help to hold them to account,” he says.
“If you believe the big banks ought to clean up their act and pay their fair share, consider making a $25 donation to the Nationals. We’ve always been about standing up for the little guy.”
The email went out as the war between the Turnbull government and the big banks intensified but a split has emerged between smaller banks who have welcomed the levy on their bigger competitors.
At the same time, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, spoke for the first time about how the special banks unit – funded in last week’s budget – would work to force banks to share confidential information about interest-rate settings.
ABA chief executive officer Anna Bligh said extensive and wide ranging powers to access confidential information had been available to the ACCC for years.
“The only trigger that needs to be pushed for the ACCC to use all of their information gathering powers is where they suspect non compliance or a breach,” Bligh told Sky.
“What Rod Sims just confirmed is that in all the years that ACCC has had extraordinary information gathering powers, they have not had any suspicion of a breach of the act by the banks.”
The big five banks have slammed the government for forcing them to sign non-disclosure agreements to view the draft legislation, until the final bill is made public when parliament sits in the next fortnight.
Malcolm Turnbull said such agreements were conventional practice and after the consultation with the banks an exposure draft will be presented to the parliament.
“This is a process of consultation and it is done at this stage confidentially,” Turnbull said.
Labor has criticised the government’s failure to pass on the bank levy to foreign banks and while Turnbull ruled out the expansion, assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar said consultations on the issue were continuing.
“We have a regulatory regime which entrenches their position in our market and that is something that is afforded to our big four banks and Macquarie bank which isn’t afforded to the foreign banks, so I’m not going to rule it in or out other than to say consultations are occurring,” Sukkar said.
But the government has so far resisted pressure from the banks and the treasurer on Thursday declared “we have absolutely no plans to change the levy”.
He challenged the big banks to commit not to pass on the levy, which is 0.06% on liabilities, or six basis points.
“The first bank to say to Australians that they’re not going to pass this on I suspect will get great support from the Australian people,” Morrison said.
“And I challenge the banks to do that. They can wear this cost. The UK banks have already worn a similar cost because they understood they had to do the right thing by their customers.”
And he urged customers to follow any bank that commits not to pass on the levy.
“If the other banks don’t want to follow them then I’d be following the bank that is the first to move.”
He also warned Bligh that the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) also represents smaller banks who support the government’s bank levy to even out competition.
“Anna Bligh doesn’t work for me, she works for the big banks,” Morrison said. “But she also works for the smaller banks who don’t seem to be getting a voice through the ABA at the moment.”