Bank bashing is an old sport in Australia, older than Federation. In 1910, when Labor became the first party to form a majority government in the new Commonwealth Parliament, they took the Money Power – banks, insurers, financiers – as their arch nemesis. With memories of the 1890s crisis of banking collapses, great strikes, and class conflict still raw, the following year the Fisher government established the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, ‘The People’s Bank’, as a state-owned trading bank offering cheap loans and government-guaranteed deposits to provide stiff competition to the greedy commercial banks gouging its customers.
A century on and Labor’s hostility towards the banks may have significantly eased but public animosity has not. Australia’s big banks enjoyed a moment of glory navigating the most recent financial crisis of 2008–09, celebrated as Australia’s ‘first line of defence’ against the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). A decade later and that reputation, despite the AA ratings and the soppy television commercials, has been trashed. For good reason, too. At least seventy-six good reasons, according to Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne.