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Close watch on banks after ATM fees cut

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The Federal Government will keep an eye on the big four banks amid concerns they could shut or cut their ATM systems after a decision to scrap withdrawal fees.

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Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and NAB all announced on Sunday the unpopular $2 fee to take money out of a competitor’s ATM would be abolished due to its unpopularity.

This was welcomed by Treasurer Scott Morrison, who accredited the change – which would cost the banks about $500 million a year – to pressure from the government for banks to put their customers first.

“I’m pleased they’ve taken this decision,” he told ABC radio today.

Asked whether he would keep an eye on possible ATM closures, Morrison said the government would be watching.

“I don’t know why they’d want to withdraw services to customers because I think their customers would respond appropriately to that.”

Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Anna Bligh insisted the banks would wear the cost of scrapping the ATM fees and not seek to raise other customer charges.

“It’s a hit to the bottom line … They have to be prepared sometimes to take pain in order to keep those customers,” she said.

South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis accused the banks of hypocrisy over their campaign against the State Government’s proposed major bank levy.

He said the levy would cost each major bank about $20 million.

“If the banks can each afford to lose hundreds of millions in ATM fees each year, they can also afford to contribute $20 million to help create jobs in South Australia,” he said.

Labor financial services spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said ATM fees had been unfairly chipping away at people’s savings for years.

“There is no doubting that Labor’s calls for a royal commission has led to this decision,” she said in a statement.

The Turnbull government has focused attention on the banking sector, including making the big four’s CEOs appear before a regular parliamentary committee hearing.

Morrison has also asked parliament to approve new laws giving the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority the power to cap bank executive salaries, delay bonuses and drive directors out of the industry if they are guilty of wrongdoing.

Bligh is critical of the relatively short timeframe the industry has been given to consult on these changes.

“This is not good public policy making,” she told ABC radio.

But Morrison questioned why the government would want to wait three years for recommendations.

“Australians want us to do something now,” he said.

Morrison said discussions had been happening since February and he would introduce legislation when parliament returns in October.

“I know it’s a quick turn around but I’m not mucking around,” he said.

APRA recently launched an inquiry into Commonwealth Bank after a series of issues raised concerns about its governance, culture and accountability.

– with AAP

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