New Zealand First members are encouraging Shane Jones to continue his crusade against foreign-owned banks.
The regional economic development minister, New Zealand First MP, and self-proclaimed ‘first citizen of the provinces’ said unless New Zealand used the powers of the state, he had “zero confidence that the banks will be incentivised to act in what they will see as a non-commercial manner”.
During the party’s 25th annual conference in Tauranga, the membership voted on three policy remits aimed at keeping the Australian-owned banks honest, and open, in the provinces.
Members proposed the party adopt a policy to buy back the 45 percent of KiwiBank divested under the former National government during the state asset selloffs, so the Government had more control over the bank’s future.
Taxpayers still own the majority of KiwiBank, with the 45 percent balance being sold to ACC (20 percent) and the New Zealand Super Fund (25 percent) in 2016.
There was also strong support for a $50 million banking levy, to be used to help keep bricks and mortar banking operations open in the regions, and fund “public good outcomes”.
A party delegate from Northland said the Australian-owned banks were only open for limited hours, making it difficult for people to do their banking, especially in a region where people travelled significant distances into town.
Jones said the banking remits were “a bit earthy and raw” but spoke to a deeper problem: “How do we run and grow and economy when excessive profits are being spirited overseas by a banking sector that is inordinately dominated by foreigners?”
There was a spirit in the party that felt the Government needed to be more disruptive of the ability of the Australian-owned banks to continue to export inordinate amounts of capital, he said.
So Jones had “grabbed the megaphone” and called out the banks, something he described as a daunting task.
“Whenever politicians or advocates speak against the banking sector you’re always slightly fearful because you’re taking on an enormous amount of power. I cannot think of any entity that has more power in our economy than the banking sector.”
Jones has lobbied Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr and Finance Minister Grant Robertson in a bid to include the issue of essential financial services in regional economies in phase two of the Government’s monetary policy inquiry.
Orr dampened expectations but Jones said he hoped his efforts with Robertson would “find some fruit”. However, the ball was in their court.
It’s unclear whether these remits from this weekend’s conference will lead to either party or Government policy, with the proposals having to pass through the New Zealand First caucus policy committee before being adopted as party policy.
But Jones said remits were a good place to start the conversation, and reflected there was “unfinished business”.
“It’s not the policy of the Government but policy often starts from political parties, and political parties are often the seabed where politicians come from,” Jones said.
The party’s Clutha-Southland faction also called for the consideration of a policy making it mandatory for central and local government to use a New Zealand-owned bank.
This was a former policy of New Zealand First, referring specifically to KiwiBank, but did not make it through coalition negotiations to become Government policy.
Those present in Tauranga amended the remit to be an investigation into any New Zealand-owned bank taking on Government business, rather than just KiwiBank.
MP Tracey Martin said the remit as it was originally worded would breach the country’s competition laws. The policy proposal was amended and backed by those present.
The clear message on the four Australian-owned banks, which racked up a cool total of $2.5 billion in half-year profits, comes as Australia releases an interim report from the royal commission on banking.
Australian banking royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne has blasted the banking sector, saying poor conduct by the banks was driven by “greed” and “the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty”.
The hefty report, which spans three volumes, was delivered on Friday.
Winston Peters said the New Zealand political system would be taking “serious interest” in the outcome of the Australian inquiry.
“The reality is I think there are lessons to be learnt from this inquiry, even at an interim level.”
In terms of the remits, Peters said people were interested in making sure New Zealand had a fair system, where no one was elite, or above another.
Forward-thinking ideas to do with commerce should always be on the agenda of political parties, he said.
Jones has yet to meet with the Aussie-owned banks, after they called a ‘please explain meeting’, but said he was willing to front up to discuss the issue.