Of all the newspaper business columnists in Australia three stand out at the moment. Alan Kohler for his twice weekly efforts in the Fairfax press, Michael West in The Weekend Australian and Ross Gittins at The Sydney Morning Herald, who is back to be his best.

Gittins has been the only commentator to explain, in easy to understand terms, without any evidence of dumbing down, the great fiddle the Federal Government and Treasurer have been pulling in respect of the economy, infrastructure spending, industrial relations and employment.

(An honourable mention must be given to today’s effort from Chanticleer in The Australian Financial Review, if only for the head line which read “Pull your finger out, Costello”. Good, simple, direct and to the point).

But probably the best piece Gittins has done in recent months was in today’s opinion page in the SMH: Unravelling the plastic money maze

This is a look at what the Reserve Bank is trying to do in its current campaign to lower interchange and other fees in the electronic payments system, especially on EFTPOS.

He explains the differing rake-offs to the various banks, retailers and customers from using credit cards, EFTPOS and debt cards (Visa) which again make clear just how hypocritical the banks have become and how the likes of David Murray do not give a rats for customers.

The sight of Murray, off lobbying the Federal Government for more reform in industrial relations, tax and infrastructure, while defending the rip-off in the electronic payments system, let along fees and charges generally, is mind bogging hypocrisy of the worst kind.

That Murray, who is worth well over $30 million (and other bankers such Westpac’s David Morgan who is worth probably double that), has the hide to resist the RBA’s attempts to cut fees on all electronic payments, is miserable.

It is a story Four Corners or the Sunday program could still do to highlight the breathtaking cupidity of our bankers, the Federal Government, Credit Unions and the like.

Credit Unions are complaining about the RBA move because they’re nice little 40c a transaction income on Visa Debit (as Ross Gittins explains) and now face a lower income. Credit Unions complain that costs will rise because they will no longer have this income stream. Well cut back some of the remuneration to senior executives, flick the management incentives and look after members interests first!

How easy would it be for Four Corners or Sunday, 60 Minutes, A Current Affair or Today Tonight to do a story or series of stories looking at how the income of the various bank CEO’s has risen, and compare that to the way fees and charges have risen.

They have the personnel to do it and one network even claims to have an expert capable of doing it (or so he says).

So it’s a pretty simple story. Ross Gittins has done part of the research, Crikey has helped by pointing out the enormous gains David Murray of the CBA and David Morgan of Westpac have had over the past five years or so. Now go and find someone who can explain and compute the way the banks’ fees and charges have risen.

Rise to the challenge folks, it’s a great yarn and a far better one that the good story on US banks and financial institutions carried by Four Corners on Monday night.

Meanwhile, a subscriber writes:

When working in a marketing support role in one of the big banks a few years ago, I heard a senior-ish marketing guy grumble, “How much more research do we need to do before we understand that they all think we’re bastards?”

He wasn’t, I think, really concerned by the ‘bastard’ issue, rather he was irritated by the time and resources that would be wasted on pointless research – time and resources he’d prefer to spend on positioning his brand as slightly less dastardly than the other three or four.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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