Comment: Sorry seems to be the easiest word

CBA CEO Ian Narev (top left), ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott (top right), Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer (bottom left) and NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn (bottom right) Source: AAP

The Federal parliamentary banking inquiry has wrapped up 12 hours of hearings from the CEOs of Australia’s Big Four Banks. They all said sorry, but now what?

"Each time we fall short, we potentially harm a customer or a member of the community, and, for that, I apologise." Shayne Elliot, ANZ

"I have personally met with customers whom we have let down. I've said before how sorry I am for the pain that we've caused them." Ian Narev, Commonwealth Bank

"There have been some issues in our industry, and at NAB, which we cannot be proud of." Andrew Thorburn, NAB

"Westpac isn't perfect. In recent years, we've had operational errors, and we apologise for this." Brian Hartzer, Westpac

Unlike Elton John, for the CEOs of the Big Four banks, saying sorry wasn’t the hardest word.

Perhaps it’s rather cynical to say these apologies read perfectly from a public relations handbook.

But, it’s entirely accurate.

It would have been negligent for these million-dollar men to do anything other than prep and workshop lines to within an inch of their life before spending three hours in front of 10 MPs, every second of it captured on camera.

If it all seemed a bit slick and a bit predictable, consider that at least they said it. Not so long ago corporate and political culture considered apologies weak or undesirable admissions of guilt.

But for victims of the banks’ negligence, the bastardry, the sheer cruelty in denying claims of the sick and dying, sorry won’t cut it.

So after 12 hours of hearings over three days, now what?

The government is talking about a banking tribunal to make it easier for victims to seek compensation away from the nightmare prospect of taking on a corporate giant in the courts. All of the CEOs except Westpac’s made positive noises about this.

But just about every non-government MP and Senator says the inquiry, to become an annual event, was little more than a show trial.

It did produce some candid admissions and forced men who are usually answerable only to shareholders, to be held accountable to a different set of metrics – the pub test.

What the hearing hasn’t done is shifted any of the political dialogue, those for and against a Royal Commission into Australia’s banking industry, remain firmly in their corners.

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