Competition tribunal starts hearing Suncorp bank sale appeal
The Australian Competition Tribunal has today started hearing an appeal over the blocked $4.9 billion sale of Suncorp’s bank to ANZ.
The tribunal panel of Justice John Halley, Jill Walker and Diana Eilert has estimated the hearing will take nine days, excluding this Wednesday.
ANZ and Suncorp lodged appeals after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) rejected the proposed deal in early August.
Suncorp in its submission has said there’s no realistic commercial likelihood of an alternative acquisition of the division by Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, and the sale will enable more efficient operation of its insurance business, supporting lower premiums, improved resilience and innovation.
But the ACCC is urging the appeal tribunal to place little weight on Suncorp’s arguments about insurance public benefits from the planned bank sale.
“Suncorp’s conglomerate structure does not prevent it from improving the performance of its insurance business,” the ACCC submission says. “It may do so more quickly with the proposed acquisition, but that is a less substantial public benefit than Suncorp claims.”
The ACCC says Suncorp hasn’t provided detailed information on the insurance business operational efficiencies it may achieve as a result of the bank sale.
“And little weight should be accorded to this benefit in any event, since it will accrue largely, if not entirely, to Suncorp and its shareholders, not to the community generally,” it says.
Brisbane-headquartered Suncorp and Melbourne-based ANZ have made commitments to the state of Queensland as part of the transaction.
The ACCC says the tribunal should not find that substantial and relevant public benefits will likely flow from the commitments to Queensland, and it should consider whether they could result in “correlative detriments” in other parts of Australia.
“For example, the commitments may necessitate that jobs are relocated to Queensland from other states, or that fewer new jobs are created elsewhere,” it says. “There is little evidence before the tribunal on which it could be satisfied that the claimed benefits will not involve swings-and-roundabouts of this nature.”
The Australian Competition Tribunal, which can vary or set aside an ACCC decision, is expected to make a ruling by February.
Suncorp and ANZ have previously said the sale could be completed by the middle of next calendar year, should all clearances be received, with the transaction also subject to Federal Treasurer approval and Queensland legislative amendments.