BANK ON THAT

Sharemarkets might be going haywire but there’s one thing you can always bank on: the controversy surrounding Australia’s big four lenders isn’t going anywhere.

A record drop on US sharemarkets led Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 to slump by 3.2% yesterday, amid concerns inflation could challenge recent gains on international markets.

In a newly volatile market, Australian banks were among the biggest losers, with more bad news likely to come as the Financial Services Royal Commission kicks off next week.

In the meantime, a weighty Productivity Commission report has criticised Australia’s “Four Pillars” policy, introduced by the Keating government in 1990. The policy is supposed to stop mergers between the big four banks and increase competition, but the commission says the policy is now outdated and could be allowing poor management to go unpunished.

Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris has told the ABC the consumer watchdog, the ACCC, should make the decision on mergers instead.

The report also found the cost of the Turnbull government’s $6.2 billion bank levy is likely to be passed on to consumers by the banks and that moves by regulatory body APRA to tighten lending may have cost the taxpayer as much as $500 million because, long story short ($), lenders increased interest rates and then cashed in on tax deductions.

As Crikey Worm goes to digital press, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is see-sawing around yesterday’s low mark.

SLIM HOPE FOR ASSANGE

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will remain in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after a British court rejected an application to dismiss the warrant for his arrest.

In a verdict handed down overnight, the court declined to pave the way for Assange to leave the embassy, where he has been taking refuge since 2012.

But in a late twist, Assange’s lawyers asked the court to end the legal action against him on public interest grounds. With the first court action failing, his team opened a second legal fight which will now be adjudicated on February 13.

Last year, a Swedish investigation into Assange over allegations of rape and sexual assault was dropped. As things stand, Assange would still be arrested if he left the embassy and could face extradition to the United States.

In recent months, there have been intermittent signs that the Ecuadorian foreign ministry may be tiring of Assange’s presence. In January, Assange was made an Ecuadorian citizen in an attempt have him recognised as a diplomat and confer on him the associated immunity. It was not successful.

The UN has found Assange’s treatment amounts to arbitrary detention and a team of doctors who recently assessed the Australian-born hacker warned living in the embassy was “a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare”.

HARD TO RE-JOYCE

News Corp papers have today ($) outed National’s leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce for moving in with a former staffer and ex-Daily Telegraph employee Vikki Campion, who is reportedly pregnant.

The story will fuel questions about media ethics and privacy.

During Joyce’s campaign for re-election in the seat of New England, The Daily Telegraph reported Joyce was battling “vicious innuendo”. Now the paper says Joyce and Campion are expecting a child.

In comments to parliament made during the same-sex marriage debate, Joyce confirmed he had split from his wife.

Campion had worked for Joyce before moving on to take roles with other Nationals MPs. According to News Corp, she lost her job with Nationals MP Damian Drum after Drum took a role as Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister in December last year.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Human rights set to be enshrined in a Queensland act

Strike proceeds as childcare workers lose equal pay claim ($)

Antony Catalano led ‘boys club’ at Domain: complaint ($)

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Hobart: Australia takes on England in a T20 cricket match as part of the ongoing tri series.

Canberra: Former Attorney-General George Brandis will give his valedictory speech in the Senate.

Canberra: The High Court hears the case of John Falzon, who arrived in Australia from Malta in 1956 but is facing deportation over a cannabis-trafficking conviction.

Dalby: Construction of what is set to be Australia’s largest wind farm will begin in the Queensland town.

THE COMMENTARIAT

 The ABC’s filing cabinet kowtow to ASIO and the government was gutless — Brian Toohey (Australian Financial Review $): “It beggars belief that nothing in the documents given to the ABC could be reported in a way that served the public interest without hurting national security.”

Liberal factions baulk at democracy — Peta Credlin (The Australian $): “Without reform to the upper house where the factional operatives are mostly parked, and leaving the factions running state executive, there’s no real change. In other words, it hardly disturbs the factional stranglehold, the sinecures and the influence peddling: it’s the reform you concede when you are determined to stop real reform.”

CRIKEY QUICKIE: THE BEST OF YESTERDAY

Up Yours: epitaph shopping with Julian Burnside — Helen Razer: “Burnside said he gained the impression that people were contacting him less because they were interested in debating immigration. “This was not their primary interest. A lot of these correspondences came from people accustomed to being ignored.””

Australia’s most notorious political turncoats — Part I — Charlie Lewis: “Egerton was a left-wing union leader in Queensland from the late-’60s to the mid-’70s, who simultaneously headed the Queensland Trades and Labour Council and the ALP Queensland Central Executive. He was a close friend and ally of Gough Whitlam, supporting him when he was nearly expelled from the party, and was considered by some to be his right-hand man in Queensland. Then, a year after the Whitlam dismissal, he was offered a knighthood by new prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Amazingly, he accepted.”

Why is Jim Molan retweeting a Russian propaganda account? — Bernard Keane: “As Crikey contributor Irfan Yusuf has pointed out, last year Molan shared a number of tweets from “Voice of Europe”, a far-right fake news site controlled by Russia that, apart from disseminating racist attacks on Muslims, has been active in supporting Catalonian separatism.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Peter Fray

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