NAB chief executive Andrew Thorburn has shocked a Liberal MP by refusing to back a proposal to publicly name and shame executives embroiled in scandal, arguing it would deter whistleblowers.
David Coleman, the Liberal MP leading a parliamentary investigation into the big banks, asked repeatedly on Friday why NAB was relying on this “quite exceptional” and “very poor” justification.
It suggested the bank boss had a low opinion of his staff, who had a legal duty to report breaches of the law, Mr Coleman said.
“I think what you mean is that in a scenario where a breach has occurred and you were required to release that information publicly, your people might be inclined to not want to release it and not want to report the breach at all, which would be compounding one breach with another,” he told the CEO.
“I found that quite exceptional that you would use that as a justification.”
Mr Thorburn refused to answer directly. Each time the question was asked, he replied that the bank already reported to ASIC and that this was sufficient, although he eventually conceded he was “happy to continue the conversation”.
In November, after the first round of bank hearings chaired by Mr Coleman, the Standing Committee on Economics recommended that banks should be forced to tell the public about breaches of the law within five days, including naming the executive responsible for the division where it occurred.
Mr Coleman eventually gave up on his line of questioning.
“Let’s move on. I’ll just note that you haven’t directly addressed my question of why you would not publicly want to release that information, and I’ve asked you three times. But we’ll move on.”
Throughout his evidence, Mr Thorburn argued that the corporate culture at NAB has changed.
He pointed to the fact that two senior managers had been dismissed for breaching the bank’s code of conduct, and that a total of five senior managers and 1100 staff had been deemed to have breached the code.
But he defended the fact that Andrew Hagger, the bank’s chief customer officer, was still employed and was paid $4.1 million in 2015/16, despite NAB’s financial-planning products scandal.
The CEOs of Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Westpac and the Australian Bankers Association will appear before the economics committee next week.