Four Corners provided a fascinating insight last night into the American banking cartel and how credit card companies have been allowed to prey on consumers, profiting to the tune of $US30 billion a year. Read a full transcript of the program here and check out the replay tomorrow night if you get a chance.

After the previous week’s story on Xstrata and WMC Resources only attracted about 500,000 viewers, Four Corners did better last night as it it was watched by 733,033 people nationally – 203,000 in Sydney, 210,000 in Melbourne, 149,000 in Brisbane, 71,000 in Adelaide and 99,000 in Perth.

It was a very worthwhile subject and raises plenty of questions about how the Australian banking cartel has been allowed to rip consumers off mercilessly.

The most amusing exchange from Crikey’s perspective was when the PBS reporter told the ignorant banking regulator that credit card companies generate more consumer complaints than any other industry in America. It went as follows:

NARRATOR: Whatever the OCC (bank regulator) is doing, Pat Wallace says it hasn’t stopped the Better Business Bureau from being deluged with complaints.

PAT WALLACE, Bay Area Better Business Bureau: It’s not an accident that the banking/credit card business, generates more complaints, nationally, across the country, than any other industry. Now, what does that say to you? Out of 1,000 industries that we track, they’re number one. I’d say there’s a problem here. These things aren’t an anomaly. All these complaints have some basis in fact. There are irritated, unhappy, dissatisfied customers in this industry. And we see it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: The Better Business Bureau tells us credit cards and banking and credit cards together, number one problem.

JULIE WILLIAMS, Acting Comptroller, OCC: Of all types of complaints?

LOWELL BERGMAN: Yeah.

JULIE WILLIAMS: I would have thought it was, like, cable, and satellite installation or—

LOWELL BERGMAN: No, I guess, you guys.

JULIE WILLIAMS: —used car dealers or something.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Your members apparently are amongst them.

JULIE WILLIAMS: That’s— I would not have thought that— that that was the case.

CRIKEY: Exactly the same situation applies in Australia. Banks generate more complaints than any other industry yet Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has sat back and done precisely nothing to stop the exploitation of customers. Australian banks now make about $15 billion a year before tax and the federal government is in on the giggle as they grab about $5 billion a year in taxes from these super profits.

You have to ask yourself exactly what it would take to make the Federal Government act against the bank cartel. The big banks aren’t stupid. They know all about hiring key political figures, journalists, lobbyists and the like to keep them sweet with the goverment.

Look no further than the Commonwealth Bank’s decision to pick up Janet Albrechtsen’s husband John O’Sullivan as general counsel on $700,000 a year. Gallagher was previously the government’s chief legal adviser on the big Telstra sales and the sale of Sydney Airport. Check out The Age’s Janet profile from Saturday here as it covers some of this territory.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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