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Treasurer urges "cool heads" on shocking bank revelations

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Treasurer Scott Morrison is urging Australians to keep a cool head about the big banks after shocking revelations uncovered at the royal commission.

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Morrison, in Melbourne today to announce tough new penalties for shonky bankers and corporate criminals, insisted Australia’s banking and finance sector remained rock solid.

The treasurer was keen to point out the hardline new penalties had been in the works for some time, and were not directly related to damning evidence aired this week at the commission.

Individuals found guilty of misconduct in the finance sector will now face up to 10 years behind bars, while corporations could be fined up to 10 per cent of their turnover.

“The punishment must always fit the crime and we must not forget that these are not victimless crimes,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

The treasurer said Australians would continue to be “deeply disturbed” by misconduct unearthed by the commission, but stressed the difference between the stability of the system and culture of organisations.

“What (Australians) are really questioning – and I think rightly – goes to issues of behaviour and culture, which are things which we as a government have been seeking to address now for some years,” he said.

Morrison said the government was already taking action to bring the banks into line and would continue to do so.

“But we must let the commission continue on and do its work, and the government must continue on and do its work, with the sorts of things that we’re announcing today,” he said.

Morrison said the government needed to be careful what it put in place did not commit “economic self-harm” to the economy.

“As disturbing and distressing as these things are, we need to ensure that our responses are well-considered, as what we’re announcing today has been well-considered over a long period of time,” he said.

Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said the reforms represented the most significant increases to some maximum civil penalties in decades.

The proposed changes are in response to an ASIC task force established in 2016.

The government agreed to all 50 task force recommendations and will implement 30 of them.

This includes increasing the maximum penalty for 19 of some of the most serious offences to 10 years’ imprisonment for individuals and 45,000 penalty units or $9.45 million for corporations.

These offences include knowingly providing defective disclosure documents to consumers, offering securities without appropriate disclosure and corporate fraud offences, which all currently carry a five-year jail term.

A further 43 offences will be subject to increases in jail terms.

People who continue to manage corporations after being disqualified will be jailed for five years instead of one, and those who provide false or misleading information to ASIC will face five years in prison.

The task force recommended civil penalties for various breaches, including providing defective disclosure documents for takeovers, acquisitions and buy-outs, and providing financial services without holding an Australian licence.

The government will also expand ASIC’s ability to ban offending individuals from the financial services sector and strengthen its power to refuse or cancel financial services and credit licences.

– AAP

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