Business watchdog to probe Bankwest loans

The West Australian, 6 June 2017

The small business ombudsman has launched her own inquiry into the way thousands of Bankwest customers were allegedly treated in the wake of its takeover by the Commonwealth Bank.

After years of complaints alleging that up to 2000 customers were forced into foreclosure after the 2008 takeover, ombudsman Kate Carnell is leading a fresh investigation.

It also comes after claims the Commonwealth took a “systemic” approach to getting rid of customers, leaving many predominantly small-business people either in financial ruin or struggling to make ends meet.

The ombudsman inquiry will examine suggestions the Commonwealth, looking to improve the health of its overall loan book, targeted borrowings from particular parts of the country or from particular industries.

There have been a string of investigations into the allegations around the big number of foreclosures that followed the Commonwealth’s takeover of Bankwest.

But Ms Carnell said her inquiry would be different to the others including a recent one by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

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“ASIC has looked at a number of the cases of CommBank-Bankwest in the past, but they have looked at them separately,” she told a recent parliamentary hearing.

“What we are looking at is to determine whether there are systemic behaviours in that space and what the reasons might be for that.”

Ms Carnell said by pulling together a number of cases it was hoped the report would be able to pinpoint systemic issues that previous investigations might have missed.

“Ultimately a royal commission will be needed to reveal everything that’s gone on.”Former publican Sean Butler

Former publican Sean Butler, who half-owned the National Hotel in the centre of Fremantle and now works for new WA One Nation senator Peter Georgiou, is one of those who spoke to Ms Carnell about her inquiry.

He said that while Ms Carnell’s inquiry would shed more light on the problems that confronted many former Bankwest customers, nothing less than a royal commission into the entire banking system was needed.

“Kate Carnell is being very active in this area and looking at the systemic issues with Bankwest, but ultimately a royal commission will be needed to reveal everything that’s gone on,” Mr Butler said.

The ombudsman report is expected to go to ASIC within the next two months.