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Hayne clears CBA over Bankwest controversy

Kenneth Hayne QC knows that no matter what he says, some people will always believe the Commonwealth Bank had some ulterior motive to deliberately force Bankwest business customers into default.

The banking royal commissioner has backed CBA's controversial actions after it bought Bankwest for $2.1 billion a decade ago, at the height of the global financial crisis.

None of the several different reasons advanced in support of the allegation CBA deliberately engineered defaults of business loans made by Bankwest holds water, Mr Hayne concluded in his interim report.

CBA discovered within 18 months of the December 2008 takeover serious problems with the quality of Bankwest's business loans and its provisioning for expected losses.

Mr Hayne said there can be no doubt CBA took steps to alter the structure of the business loan book and chose not to renew some expired loans, even where the borrower had not defaulted.

Nor was there any doubt that CBA did give notice of default to some borrowers and set about recovering the debt.

CBA did not always act towards the borrowers as it should have, Mr Hayne said.

But he found the defaults in cases he examined fell very well short of showing CBA engaged in deliberate conduct as alleged by those people who continue to complain about it.

"Borrowers, seeing that others were dealt with and affected in ways that they regard as relevantly similar, have formed the unshakeable view that CBA's conduct towards them was wrong," Mr Hayne said.

"They will not accept that CBA may have acted case by case, according to judgments made about each loan.

"Instead they seek to assign reasons for CBA's conduct that they say show how and why the conduct was wrong."

Mr Hayne dismissed the various theories as false.

Some people criticised the royal commission for devoting inadequate time to the Bankwest issue during its small business hearing.

Others complained they were not given the opportunity to present evidence that would have proved CBA had an ulterior motive.

But Mr Hayne also dismantled the arguments set out in further submissions, rejecting the allegations of misconduct by CBA.

Responding to Friday's interim report, small business ombudsman Kate Carnell criticised the royal commission for failing to adequately address CBA's actions in the Bankwest case.

"There were around 2000 businesses with performing Bankwest loans whose loans were defaulted, using overly aggressive tactics, including revaluation of property, changes to loan-to-value-ratios, withholding valuation information and applying exorbitant default penalty interest rates," she said.

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