June 26, 2018 / 5:35 AM / 6 months ago

Australian lawmaker, who wanted bank inquiry, questions scope of process

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The ongoing public inquiry into the scandal-ridden Australian finance sector is too narrow in scope, a politician who had campaigned for the so-called Royal Commission said during hearings on Tuesday.

Federal MP Bob Katter's hand is seen with notes written on it while at a doorstop outside the Brisbane Magistrate court after attending Round 4 of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Brisbane, Australia, June 26, 2018. AAP/Glenn Hunt/via REUTERS

The complaint from Bob Katter, a lower house independent from farm-reliant Queensland state, adds to the growing clamor of voices that have expressed similar concerns and called for the Royal Commission to extend its timeframe beyond a year.

The Commission’s latest round of hearings is focusing on the declining access to banking services in the country’s rural areas and the inflexibility of lenders towards farm-specific challenges like weather and trade disputes.

While the hearing was in session, Katter stood up and asked if the Commission would examine “why these things happened” and what can be done “to prevent them happening in the future?”

His comments prompted the inquiry’s presiding officer, a former judge, to acknowledge others had voiced similar worries.

Critics have suggested the inquiry is failing to hear the true extent of alleged wrongdoing, ex-judge Kenneth Hayne said.

“We are looking at these things at the moment through the lens of particular case studies,” Hayne added.

“There’s a deal of work that goes on behind the scenes, before, during and after. Ultimately the fruits of that work are going to have to appear in my report and that’s the way I’m going to have to deal with it.”

The inquiry is now at the halfway mark. It has already led to damaging revelations, wiping billions of dollars off market values of Australia’s top banks, prompting executive departures and encouraging lenders to offload business units likely to be affected by any regulation that results from it.

The Royal Commission is expected to start flagging legislative recommendations in a preliminary report to the government in September.

Katter, however, flagged his concerns about the process before entering the hearing room on Tuesday, telling reporters he was “desperately worried that all we are seeing is a government face-saving farce before an election”.

Australia’s conservative government opposed holding a Royal Commission before bowing to pressure from Katter and others in late 2017. It faces an election in 2019 and most polls suggest it will lose to the opposition Labor party.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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