Senate debates

Monday, 19 June 2017


Major Bank Levy Bill 2017, Treasury Laws Amendment (Major Bank Levy) Bill 2017; Second Reading

1:57 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


The Turnbull Government is committed to Australia having a world leading financial sector.

Our banks must be unquestionably strong, but they must also be unquestionably accountable, unquestionably fair and our banking system must be unquestionably competitive.

The Government is also committed to ensuring that Australia's largest banks are held to account and make a fair additional contribution to the Australian community which they serve.

Australia's financial system is strong, stable and well-regulated and has weathered global volatility well.

Nevertheless, the banking system in Australia – with a small number of large and highly profitable banks at its core – is highly concentrated.

The Government and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) have taken, and continue to take, steps that will force banks to take greater responsibility for their own resilience and avoid the need for taxpayer-funded bailouts.

The major bank levy will build on these critical prudential reforms by making stable and secure funding sources relatively less expensive.

Importantly, it will also support competition in the financial system by providing a more level playing field for smaller banks and other providers of financial services who compete with the larger banks who enjoy cheaper costs of funding.

Australia's five largest banks are highly profitable – earning more than $30 billion a year after tax – and benefit from a regulatory system that has helped to embed their dominant position in the market. For example, the major banks are accredited to use internal ratings-based models that allow them to reduce the amount of capital that they must hold, lowering their funding costs relative to the smaller banks who rely on standardised risk weights.

They also contribute to systemic risk through their scale and concentration to the financial system – risks that ultimately fall on the broader Australian community.

Hence, from 1 July 2017 all Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs), foreign and domestically-owned, with greater than $100 billion in licensed entity liabilities will be liable to pay the major bank levy, which will include the Big Four banks.

Unlike the previous bank deposits tax measure, which was abolished by this Government, smaller banks will not be liable to pay the major bank levy. The threshold will be indexed to growth in nominal Gross Domestic Product.

The major bank levy will equal 0.015 per cent of each affected bank's licensed entity liabilities each quarter (0.06 per cent per annum), excluding Additional Tier 1 capital, deposits protected by the Financial Claims Scheme (FCS) and the quarterly average value of Exchange Settlement Account (ESA) balances held with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

Unlike previous proposals considered by earlier Governments, this levy will not apply to everyday household deposits. Nor will it apply to banks' assets – such as mortgages. It will also not apply to other financial institutions, such as insurance companies or superannuation funds.

It is not a levy on depositors or savers or mortgage holders.

Liabilities captured by the levy include, for example corporate bonds; commercial paper; certificates of deposit; Tier 2 capital instruments; operational liabilities and non-FCS protected deposits.

Treasury estimates that the levy is expected to raise around $1.5 billion a year. This represents a fair contribution by the banking sector to the Australian community and contributes to a long term balanced Budget.

To minimise additional red tape costs, assessment of the levy will largely rely on data already reported to APRA and will be payable quarterly to the Australian Taxation Office.

The Government is working with the banks to ensure a smooth transition to the new regime. To assist major banks to begin to comply with the levy, the first levy calculation and instalment will be delayed by three months – at no cost to revenue – to provide additional time for banks to make necessary systems changes.

The levy will be administered by the ATO, with APRA's role being solely to assist with data collection.

The levy will support efforts to improve financial system resilience.

The Turnbull Government and APRA are working diligently – in line with the recommendations of the Murray Financial System Inquiry – to improve the resilience of Australia's financial system. This includes:

          The major bank levy will complement these important reforms.

          By excluding Additional Tier 1 Capital and FCS-protected deposits from the levy base, the levy will work in tandem with APRA reforms.

          The effective exclusion of liabilities used to fund ESA balances held with the RBA will also ensure that the levy does not impinge on the operation of Australia's payments system.

          The levy is also designed to support competition.

          The House of Representatives Economics Committee's 'Review of the Four Major Banks', commissioned by the Government last year, concluded that Australia's banking sector is an oligopoly and that Australia's largest banks have significant pricing power which they have used to the detriment of everyday Australians.

          This is not a situation that the Government is willing to accept.

          In the 2017-18 Budget we announced a range of measures to improve competition in the financial system, including:

                  We have also established a Productivity Commission inquiry into the state of financial system competition, to be supplemented by regular in-depth inquiries into specific financial system competition issues by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

                  These measures will support economic growth and deliver better outcomes for consumers and small businesses. The major bank levy builds on these reforms.

                  The levy will help create a more level playing field for smaller banks and non-bank competitors. This will give existing and new players – including FinTechs – a better chance to grow their businesses and deliver improved services and experiences to all Australians.

                  The major bank levy does not give any bank an excuse to increase costs for their customers.

                  That is why the Government has directed the ACCC to undertake an inquiry into residential mortgage pricing. The ACCC will be able to use its information-gathering powers to obtain and scrutinise documents from any bank affected by the levy and to report publicly on its findings.

                  Following the introduction of the levy, it is my expectation that, in setting their prices, banks will effectively balance the needs of borrowers, savers, shareholders and the wider community.

                  The ACCC inquiry will illuminate how the banks respond to the introduction of the levy and give all Australians the information they need to get a better deal elsewhere from any of the more than 100 other banks, credit unions and building societies, as well as other non-bank competitors.

                  The Turnbull Government has been a world leader in making sure that big companies pay their fair share of tax.

                  To close, this Bill delivers on the Government's promise to ensure that Australia's largest banks are held accountable to the Australian community.

                  It is evidence of our Government's utmost commitment to long term budget sustainability and to ensuring that Australia's largest banks make a fair contribution to the community.

                  It builds on our program of prudential reforms, contributing to the resilience of our financial system and helping to ensure that banks can stand on their own two feet without recourse to taxpayers at times of financial stress.

                  Finally, it enhances competition – supporting economic growth and delivering better outcomes for Australian consumers and businesses.

                  Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.



                  The Treasury Laws Amendment (Major Bank Levy) Bill 2017 is the second Bill to introduce the major bank levy.

                  This Bill makes a number of amendments to support the effective operation of the major bank levy. These include:

                            Full details of this measure and the major bank levy are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

                            1:58 pm

                            Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                            I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Major Bank Levy Bill. I will have to stop for question time, but when the bill comes back on I will speak further on it. From the outset, Labor will be supporting the bill. We do have a lot of fights with the government about many things, but we resolved quite early on that we would not stand in the way of the government on this measure. The state of the budget and the need for this measure in relation to budget repair has certainly assisted us in coming to this conclusion. Thanks to this government's budgetary mismanagement, gross debt smashed through the half a trillion mark last week, for the first time in the nation's history. With debt and the deficit blowing out under this government's watch, it would be irresponsible of Labor to take an alternative position. But that does not mean we are going to provide a leave pass for the incompetence of the government and the Treasurer.

                            These major bank levy bills give effect to the government's 2017-18 budget measure to impose an annual levy on the big four banks and on Macquarie. Applying to banks with liabilities of at least $100 billion, the government estimates the levy will raise $6.2 billion, which is claimed to be both a revenue raising measure and a competition measure. It is worth stepping through some of the issues that we have encountered since this measure was first announced in this year's budget. All of these issues clearly highlight the sheer incompetence of the government and, in particular, the Treasurer. To start out there was the leak to the Australian Financial Review before the budget lock-up commenced. Budget leaks and drops happen all the time—it is part of the usual operation of a government prior to a budget—but generally it is not something as market sensitive as this proposal. The Treasury secretary, when asked about this, said:

                            … on the basis of what we have been told by our staff, on the basis of informed discussions with my senior executives as to who knew what and when, I would be devastated. I reiterate, I would be devastated, if I had thought that one of my staff had been responsible for this.

                            Debate interrupted.