National

Hayne hits back at Bankwest criticisms

By AAP Newswire

The banking royal commissioner has hit back at claims his inquiry devoted insufficient time to the controversy over the Commonwealth Bank's treatment of Bankwest customers.

Kenneth Hayne QC took the unusual step of rejecting criticisms from some former Bankwest business customers, who want the commission to devote more attention to CBA's 2008 takeover of Bankwest.

Mr Hayne said a number of people wrote to the commission saying insufficient time was devoted to the matter at its last public hearing and more case studies should have been examined.

He said a very considerable amount of research and analysis was devoted to the Bankwest takeover by lawyers assisting the commission, and the intensive work went beyond the circumstances of the four consumers who gave evidence.

Mr Hayne said some of the criticism proceeded from the premise that it was the commission's role to advance the interests of those who describe themselves as Bankwest's victims.

"That, of course, misunderstands the role and the duty of a royal commissioner, which is to inquire, without fear or favour, into matters falling within the terms of reference.

"Neither I, nor counsel assisting or the solicitors assisting the commission, carry any brief for those who assert a grievance arising from the takeover of Bankwest, or indeed, of any other issue. We are here to inquire."

Counsel assisting the commission concluded Australia's largest bank did not deliberately set out to force Bankwest business customers into default and had no ulterior motive to do so.

They backed CBA's controversial actions after it bought Bankwest for $2.1 billion a decade ago, at the height of the global financial crisis.

Mr Hayne on Monday stressed he had not yet made any findings, despite counsel assisting's submissions.

The former Bankwest customers who recently wrote to the commission were told they should raise any further issues, but Mr Hayne said it should not be mere assertions and conjecture.

Mr Hayne addressed misconceptions about the commission's procedures amid claims consumers were not allowed to cross-examine bank witnesses, which he said was incorrect.

He also rejected claims consumers were not given enough time to prepare to appear and brief lawyers, saying each witness had the opportunity to be represented and cross-examine witnesses.

Mr Hayne's remarks came as the commission's latest hearing began in Brisbane, when he again explained the inquiry could not publicly examine every case.