OUR SAY: Royal commission threat proves its worth as banks abolish fees

If the decision by the big four banks to scrap their universally detested inter-bank ATM fees was a $500 million bid to stave of the threat of a royal commission then it has paid off.

Scott Morrison, a long-standing opponent of the royal commission push being led by the ALP and the Greens, was quick to reaffirm his previous commitments to the banks this week. He argued that reforms such as the abolition of the ATM fees would be delayed for years if the government had to wait for a royal commission report.

Others are not convinced, believing that if just the threat of a royal commission can propel the banks into this sort of action then what could the real thing achieve? The short answer is "probably lots".

Mr Morrison's apparent belief that no significant reforms could be undertaken while a royal commission was still in progress seems misguided. There have been numerous instances where commissioners have made recommendations requiring urgent action long before their inquiries were concluded.

A recent example was this government's decision to establish a national redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse last year in response to a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is not due to hand down its final report until December 2017.

The government's anti-royal commission stance seems counter- intuitive given a string of odious scandals and management failures over the past two decades that have made it clear that service to customers has ranked a poor second to profits for shareholders as far as senior bankers are concerned.

The big four bank CEOs are dreaming if they imagine, even for a moment, customers will praise them for dropping inter-bank ATM transaction fees, which have raised billions of dollars since being introduced in 2009. Their abandonment, initially by the Commonwealth, has been largely dismissed as a cynical ploy to draw attention away from that institution's ongoing money laundering scandal.

Given CommBank just reported a $9.8 billion profit for the year its share of the $500 million in lost transaction fees will amount to little more than loose change. Every step this government has taken to hold the banks to account through lesser measures has actually strengthened the case for a royal commission. Appoint a commissioner now.