I'm not picking a fight with the banks: Australia Treasurer tells CNBC

Key Points
  • Australian banks highly profitable, Wayne Swan says
  • Australia needs revenues to meet budget surplus forecast targets
Levy on big banks to help Australia's budget repair task: Treasurer Morrison

Australia's Treasurer Scott Morrison insists he's not expecting a fight from Australia's big banks despite announcing a surprise levy on Tuesday night's annual budget.

Australia's budget will impose a levy of 6 basis points on banks with liabilities in excess of $100 billion Australian dollars ($74 billion) in an attempt to raise more than A$6 billion over the next four years.

"This is the bank's contribution to the budget repair task; it's something that happens in the U.K. and Europe and brings Australia in line with other jurisdictions." Morrison told CNBC in the budget lock up.

What's in Australia's federal budget for 2017/2018

"Banks make around A$30 billion in profits and it's 6 basis points. Banks see more than that move in a week." Morrison added.

Dominic Lorrimer | Getty Images

The new levy will affect Australia's four big pillar banks and investment bank Macquarie.

Credit Suisse analysts estimated in a note on Wednesday that the levy would cost financial institutions around A$1.6 billion a year, or around 5 percent of the banks' current profits.

The analysts were forecasting a $7 billion increase in bank profits for the year ending June 2018, or a 7 percent increase, but noted the levy would drag down that forecast.

When asked if he feared a campaign by the banks as a result of the new levy the Treasurer told CNBC "this is about making sure our budget balances and that the banks make a fair contribution."

As well, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann called the levy "fair and proportionate."

Levy on Australia's big banks is 'fair and proportionate': Finance Minister

In 2010, under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Labor government introduced a new mining tax on big mining profits and faced an industry backlash which included anti-government television commercials.

The government's planned banking levy wasn't likely to meet political opposition in Parliament.

Wayne Swan, a former deputy prime minister for an opposition Labour party government, took a relatively sanguine view of the levy.

"The banking sector here is very profitable. Their return on equity (ROE) is among the highest in the world," Swan told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Wednesday. "I think the government's position to impose this levy shows they don't think it will have any impact on investment or growth."

There's another reason the government may not be overly concerned about an industry backlash.

Why the Australian economy could have been doing a lot better than it is

Swan noted his party was seeking a royal commission into the sector's behavior after a series of scandals, including overcharging customers and out-sized bonuses.

"They're hugely profitable and they're not very competitive and a lot of consumers are getting ripped off," he said.

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