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From Staff Reports
National Australia Bank Ltd. (OTC: NABZY) has jumped back into the debate on the Australian federal government’s ban on mergers between the country’s “Big Four” banks after NAB Chief Executive John Stewart changed his stance on the highly controversial policy, which many feel will relegate Australia’s banking system to a secondary position in the fast-growing and highly competitive Asian financial markets, the Australia Herald newspaper reported.
In a speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne yesterday (Tuesday), Stewart said removal of the so-called “Four Pillars” policy was necessary if Australia wants to become the financiall-services hub of the fast-growing Asian market. But that move alone won’t suffice.
"Let me make it clear, removing the four pillars policy, in itself, would not be a panacea," Stewart told the chamber audience. "But there is no place for a four pillars policy in an Australia out to maximize the potential of its financial-services industry. One or two very large Australian banks would be regionally or even globally competitive."
Without ongoing reform, Australia could become a branch economy with local operations reporting to head offices overseas, Stewart warned.
Stewart's comments represented a surprising and strategic departure from the "neutral" view on the four pillars policy that he first articulated two years ago this month. At that time, he said it was up to the politicians to decide whether that policy should stay, or go. Stewart now says his bank is planning to sponsor forums in capital cities nationwide to show Australians how this country could position itself as the financial-services hub of all of Asia.
He denied that the bank was trying to impose its own agenda on reform of the financial services industry, but he did say that he wanted to engage political parties and other groups on the issues.
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