SYDNEY – Australia’s Royal Commission into misconduct of the financial sector began on Tuesday its first public hearing with a focus on residential mortgages, car finance, and credit cards.
Several major banks in Australia, including the National Australia Bank (NAB), the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ, as well as other financial entities, are among the institutions facing the investigation of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.
Evidence will be presented to the Commission in the next two weeks that consumers have not always been treated fairly and honestly when they received the loans through bad practices such as the alleged manipulation of interest rates.
The assistant counselor of the inquiry, Rowena Orr, said that residential mortgages represent about two-thirds of total loans granted by Australian banks.
Currently, there are more than AU$1.7 billion ($1.33 billion) in outstanding mortgages, according to Orr.
The Commission will seek to determine at hearings in Melbourne the reasons behind unfair lending, although it is feared that hundreds of alleged victims will not appear for fear of legal retaliation by banks and other and financial institutions.
Cases of improper lending have already been addressed by banks and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, resulting in many cases in fines against banks and refunds to clients.
The president of the Banking and Finance Consumer Support Association, Denise Bailey, told SBS News that there are “hundreds” of potential witnesses who wanted to appear at public hearings.
But these alleged victims will not do so because they fear legal retaliation, especially those who have spent years of financial stress before reaching an agreement with banks and financial institutions over their claims, Bailey said.
The Australian government established the Royal Commission last November to inquire into financial sector misconducts after months of pressure from the opposition Labor Party and the Green Party.
The opposition parties were later backed by some officials from the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who at first opposed the initiative.