May 8, 2020 / 5:30 AM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 1-Australia puts off bank enquiry overhaul, citing virus response

(Recasts, adds comment from treasurer, consumer group)

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, May 8 (Reuters) - Australia said on Friday it will postpone by six months a deadline to have all the recommendations of a powerful enquiry into the financial sector made into law so affected companies can focus on the coronavirus response.

A Royal Commission, the most powerful type of government-ordered enquiry, gave 76 recommendations to clean up banks and insurers in an excoriating report in February last year.

The government had said it would introduce all but one of the recommendations, and already put more than half into law before the coronavirus reached Australia, prompting the shutdown of much of the economy.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement the government would defer making the remaining recommendations law for six months to let banks focus on supporting customers through the pandemic that is expected to drive unemployment to more than 10%.

“This announcement ... balances the need to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission with the need to ensure our financial institutions are in a position to devote their resources to responding to the significant challenges posed by the coronavirus,” Frydenberg said.

“The changes will also provide certainty and clarity to all stakeholders about the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations arising out of the Royal Commission.”

The postponement falls in with a wider regulatory reprieve for the financial sector, which had been on the receiving end of tougher lending rules and a stream of regulator lawsuits just as the coronavirus upended the economy.

In March, in the first days of the shutdown of most of Australian public life, the bank regulator relaxed rules, that had only recently been introduced, of how much cash lenders were required to keep on hand.

Non-government consumer advocate CHOICE said in a statement the six-month delay “strikes a sensible balance between recognising the reality of these unprecedented circumstances and the need to legislate reforms to protect consumers, who will need this even more in the coming months”. (Reporting by Byron Kaye, Paulina Duran and Colin Packham Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel)

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