The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission may well not have any concerns about the National Australia Bank's 5.8 per cent shareholding in St George Bank but it is nevertheless making routine enquiries and, in doing so, is taking account of St George's articles, Professor Allan Fels, chairman of the ACCC, said today.

In relation to any full acquisition of St George by NAB, the ACCC would investigate this closely with a view to ensuring that such an acquisition did not breach the provisions of s. 50 of the Trade Practices Act. Section 50 prohibits a merger or acquisition of assets which would have the effect, or would be likely to have the effect, of substantially lessening competition in a substantial market for goods or services.

Last September, following the Trade Practices Commission's decision not to object to Westpac Banking Corporation's acquisition of Challenge Bank, the then TPC said that regional banks, by adding diversity, innovation, closeness to customers and price competition, play a key role in promoting competition and consumer choice in the market.

It said the TPC (now the ACCC) would scrutinise any major trading bank acquisitions of regional banks very carefully. In any State with only one major regional bank the ACCC would be especially concerned. It would be concerned that such an acquisition at this time would be likely to substantially lessen competition. The ACCC would therefore need highly persuasive evidence to be convinced otherwise. In States with more than one substantial regional bank, the ACCC would examine any major trading bank acquisition very closely in any event.

Since that time the ACCC has not been involved in any decisions about bank acquisitions and its main activity has been to update its market knowledge in the light of takeover speculation.

Should NAB or any other major trading bank move to acquire St George, the ACCC would look at the matter on its merits at the time of the proposed acquisition.