Reserve Bank governor pledges ‘significant’ overhaul

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has laid out a major shake-up of the central bank in the wake of a wide-ranging review into the institution.

Jul 12, 2023, updated Jul 12, 2023
RBA Governor Philip Lowe Photo: AAP Image/Darren England

RBA Governor Philip Lowe Photo: AAP Image/Darren England

Fewer meetings, post-decision press conferences and more board member interaction with staff have been given a tick by the governor of the Reserve Bank.

Philip Lowe has signed off on a range of recommendations from an independent review released in April.

The board will meet eight times a year, as opposed to 11, and the meetings will run longer.

Board members will also have opportunities to hear directly from the central bank’s employees ahead of those meetings and the governor will front post-meeting media conferences.

“Together, these changes are significant and represent a substantial response to the recommendations of the review,” Lowe said.

The other key change put forward by the three reviewers was to create two boards – one for setting monetary policy and one for day-to-day operations.

Lowe said other recommendations would be considered after the new monetary policy board was up and running to avoid locking it into a particular approach.

This includes the possibility of publishing an anonymous vote count and more public appearances from board members.

He said the existing and proposed structures were unusual by international standards.

“In almost every other central bank, most of the decision-makers are insiders – that is, they spend the bulk of their time inside the central bank,” he said.

He said only two of the nine board members were currently insiders and the reliance on outside members would continue under the new structure.

“The Australian model has the advantage of ensuring diversity of thought and it helps bring a wider perspective to monetary policy decisions,” he said.

“However, it does have implications for the way those decisions are communicated and the appropriate accountability mechanisms.”

He said it was appropriate for the new board to decide on these matters at a later date.

The governor also revealed the extent of work already underway to reform the bank’s culture and address other recommendations.

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The RBA has committed to recruiting a chief operating officer and someone to head a new internal communications function.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers told reporters on Wednesday he would soon take to federal cabinet a recommendation regarding the future of Lowe beyond the expiry of his seven-year term in September.

He said he had consulted with opposition counterpart Angus Taylor and would work with cabinet colleagues to make the best decision for the nation.

“The Reserve Bank review and the appointment of a governor is not about undermining the independence of the Reserve Bank – it’s about enhancing it,” Chalmers said.

It is still possible Lowe will have his term extended but other names mentioned include finance department head Jenny Wilkinson, treasury boss Stephen Kennedy and RBA deputy governor Michele Bullock.

Asked if he would stay on at the treasurer’s request, Lowe said he would be honoured to.

“If I am not asked to continue in the role, I will do my best to support my successor, and the treasurer has said he will make an announcement before the end of this month.”

Lowe will travel with Chalmers to India next week for a meeting of the G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs.

Lowe told conferencegoers at the Economic Society in Brisbane today that more interest rate rises are possible to get inflation under control, but the July pause was appropriate.

While Lowe has toned down his language around more interest rate hikes, he said more tightening is still possible even after keeping the cash rate on hold this month.

The governor said it’s unclear if monetary policy has more work to do and was “very conscious” the full force of the tightening had not yet been felt.

“It remains to be determined whether monetary policy has more work to do,” he said in his speech.

“It is possible that some further tightening will be required to return inflation to target within a reasonable timeframe.”


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