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Australia: 'Big Four' banks drag shares lower

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[SYDNEY] Shares in Australia's 'big four' banks weakened on Tuesday as a result of a government tax proposal, dragging the benchmark index to a lower close.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 11.005 points or 0.19 per cent lower at 5,760.2 points.

The country's largest lender, Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.41 per cent, while Westpac slipped 1.03 per cent.

The banks issued a strongly worded statements, saying the new tax would result in A$1 billion (S$1.03 billion) of additional costs annually, and would also hurt customers and shareholders.

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Iron miner BHP Billiton was also among the worst performers on the index, slipping to its lowest in nearly three weeks after ore prices slipped 1.72 per cent on the Dalian Commodity Exchange.

Fortescue ended 2.05 per cent lower, while Rio Tinto closed 0.63 per cent down.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index shed 0.34 per cent or 24.8 points to finish the session at 7,384.7.

The country's largest provider of mobile phone services, Spark New Zealand, led losses, declining 1.87 per cent to post its biggest drop in six weeks.