It’s the nature of Crikey to chuck a gibber in the billabong and see what the ripples might wash up around the banks – an apt word in light of yesterday’s story questioning the legal status of penalty fees.

So this morning I rang the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to check if some interest might have been sparked in the issue of the cartel bluffing hundreds of millions of dollars out of consumers through legally dubious contracts.

The ACCC replied in words to the effect of: “Nope, it’s nothing to do with us, it’s the Reserve Bank’s responsibility.”

So I rang the RBA and was told (I bet you can see where this is going…) words to the effect of: “Nope, it’s nothing to do with us, we don’t regulate the banking industry.”

But the ACCC said it’s your baby?

“Well they’re wrong. We have nothing to do with what banks charge their customers.”

But you bought into bank interchange fees, made rulings and changed what banks charge?

“Er, I can’t comment on that.”

And he couldn’t suggest whose responsibility it might be either. So I rang the ACCC again and recounted what the RBA said.

“Well, it’s still nothing to do with us. I was advised it’s the RBA’s responsibility, if anyone’s.”

So it all looks like one big buck pass – and it’s Peter Costello’s fault. It was Treasurer Pete who implemented the Wallis Inquiry recommendations that resulted in multiple regulators, the “three peaks” of the ACCC, ASIC and APRA. The bank penalty fees ripoff demonstrates a wide crack in the floor of the valley between those peaks.

Costello stripped the RBA of its official prudential role – although it covertly continues to exercise one. And there’s no point talking to APRA about the fees as its concern is make sure the banks are rich and strong – not whether they’re pulling swifties over customers.

ASIC? Nah, that’s securities and investments – not bank fees.

So the banks can just charge on. And charge. And charge.

Good work, Treasurer.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey