Banking | Finance

Financial System Inquiry to focus on competition and cyber security

Competition and cyber security will be two of the key areas examined under the Federal Government's Financial System Inquiry, according to Chairman David Murray AO.

Speaking at the CEDA Economic and Political Overview event in Sydney in his first address since being announced as the Chairman of the Inquiry, Mr Murray said a key issue to be examined would be regulation on competition, including if firms face a level playing field.

"We need to consider whether we have the right balance between competition, stability and efficiency," he said.

"In the wake of the global (financial) crisis, it is not surprising that the focus of regulators and global standard setters has been on stability rather than competition.

"We will be very interested to examine the extent to which stability objectives might hinder competition, or even perhaps in some cases, promote more competition and reduce systemic risks."

Mr Murray said given the significant technological developments for financial systems in recent history, this would also be examined, in particular, the risk associated with cyber security.

When questioned about the 'four pillars' bank policy, Mr Murray said his personal opinion was that "if anything, it should be locked in".

"If you relaxed the four pillars policy and went to three, inevitably in some unforseen circumstance you would finish up having to go to two, and at two, there is definitely a too big to fail question," he said.

Mr Murray said an interim report would be delivered mid-year with the final report and recommendations to be delivered to Treasurer Joe Hockey in November.


The resources boom and the Australian economy

Speaking on the resources boom and Australian dollar, Reserve Bank of Australia Assistant Governor (Economic), Dr Chris Kent said that it is possible history "is less useful as a guide" for predicting what will happen with the current resources boom.

"One point of difference is the share of foreign ownership of the resources sector," he said.

"This means that less of the extra revenue associated with both existing and new resource ventures will accrue as profits paid to Australian residents than might have been the case in earlier booms.

"Another point of difference with this episode is that LNG projects will account for a large share of the additional production and exports generated by the boom in investment.

"While LNG projects require a substantial number of Australian workers to help put the new extraction, processing and transport facilities in place, they require relatively few workers during the production phase."

Again, he said this would mean less revenue from the sale of resource exports would accrue to Australian residents, in the form of wages, than would have been the case if more of the investment had been focused on other commodities.


Federal politics: The rise of geo-economics

Providing the political outlook, ANU School of International, Political and Strategic Studies Director, Professor Michael Wesley said an emerging problem for the Abbott government in foreign affairs was that we were coming to the end of a long period where economics trumped politics and security.

Professor Wesley said there were two major points that define where Australia sits in the world at the moment, our increased economic prominence and centrality and our increased strategic prominence through events happening in our region such as the rise of China and India.

However, he said that period of economic prominence appeared to be running out and we were entering an era of "what some have called geo-economics rising, where politics and security is trumping and starting to direct economic and market based decisions".

This will lead to a much more complex picture for Australia and where it sits in the world, he said.

"Basically our part of the world has got extremely wealthy and developed extremely quickly by agreeing among the various countries that rivalries and difficulties and jealousies would be submerged in the name of cooperative economics and cooperative trade and joint development," he said.

"I think we are starting to see the development of really worrying rivalries between countries that are deeply economically dependent with each other.

"The situation between Japan and China should not be taken lightly, it is extremely worrying.

"There is now, without wanting to be too sensationalist, a great debate occurring among scholars about whether conditions in Asia in 2014 are or are not similar to conditions in Europe in 1914."

Taxation reform: Tax base erosion and the "elephant in the room"

Tax reform and infrastructure investment were other key issues discussed during the forum, with the Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox saying we need to start the conversation around taxation reform.

"Australia really has a taxation system that doesn't work, it is ineffective, ineffectual and it's inefficient," he said.

"What we have is a narrow and declining tax base; we don't actually have a tax base established for the 21st century economy that we are developing.

"We have an over reliance on income tax and an under reliance on consumption tax.

"In terms of our corporate tax we are now well above the OECD average... and that is also a drag on our growth."

Mr Willox said we need to be prepared to revisit the original Henry Tax Recommendations and the other "elephant in the room" is the GST.

"It will take a brave government, but taxation reform requires go back and look at our GST as part of a fundamental review of our taxation system. We need to look at both its scope and its rate and any increase in scope or rate needs to be traded off with greater efficiencies across our broader taxation system," he said.

Infrastructure: A series of markets

On infrastructure investment, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Chief Executive, Brendan Lyon said this year we need look at infrastructure development as markets not individual projects.

"I think this year we need to be thinking about infrastructure as a series of markets not a series of projects," he said.

"How we regulate them as markets, how we get the funding and the efficient signals for finance, operation and throughput and so forth.
"That's really where the beauty of the 1980s and 1990s reforms focused ...the problem is we only got half way."

Other speakers included:

  • National Australia Bank, Chief Economist - Markets, Rob Henderson
  • ANZ Chief Economist, Warren Hogan
  • The Australian Financial Review National Affairs Columnist, Jennifer Hewett
  • Australian Services Roundtable Chief Executive Officer, Ian Birks
  • IAG Managing Director and CEO, Mike Wilkins

CEDA members can access event audio and presentations here.