Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC)

Private Members Business - Federation Chamber - 20 August 2018

Watch Matt's Speech here

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (17:37): I did think there was quite a degree of irony in the fact that it was the member for Fadden who moved this motion to strengthen ASIC's investigative powers. I'll put that to one side because the member for Fadden is so committed to what he has moved in today's motion that, as soon as he moved it, he left the chamber. But that is no matter.

The first point of this motion does note the appointment of a new deputy chair of ASIC, Mr Daniel Crennan QC. I do welcome his appointment because I think it is entirely appropriate for a body that should be one of the most significant law enforcement bodies in this country that at least its deputy chair is able to bring a focus into that part of the work of our corporate regulator. I welcome that appointment.

The motion goes on to further note the government has invested in ASIC. Let's take a look back at that investment. 'Invested in ASIC' is a curious choice of words for a government that cut the budget for ASIC when it came into power and had to reverse that decision. It took a long time for ASIC to be able to restore its staffing numbers after those disastrous cuts. But when we got to this budget, again we saw there was a reduction in funding for ASIC. Now the government has said it's okay because programs have wound down—they're coming to end of life. Let's look at the core funding that's available to ASIC. That has reduced significantly over time, partly because this government continues with its task of applying efficiency dividends which, ironically, are making ASIC less efficient and less able to do its work. It is completely wrong in this motion to say that this government is investing in ASIC and being a tough cop on the beat.

Let's get into the detail. It talks about the introduction of an industry-funding model. Labor welcomes that. That is appropriate. Look at the big task, the new task that the government has given to ASIC. ASIC came to government and said, 'We want to place investigators and officers into the banks.' Because, after all of the disasters we have seen come out of the royal commission, we know that it's really important that we're able to see what the banks are actually doing to try and make cultural change, to hold them to account. But who is paying for that? Not industry, not the banks. ASIC had to get the government to use taxpayers' money to fund that purpose because, at the moment, the industry funding model that the government has put in place doesn't actually cover that yet.

Then we get to the new product intervention powers. How long has it taken to get to this point? How long has it taken to get to the point where these new powers, which ASIC has been crying out for for years, and of which review after review has said, 'ASIC should have these strong powers,' are introduced? It's taken years, as it has with penalties. The government says it wants to make sure that the book is thrown at the banks. Actually, the government should have gotten on with the job of delivering some of this legislative change years ago instead of holding up FoFA reforms and trying to stop the things that are unlawful from becoming unlawful. If it had gotten on with the job of making these stronger penalties come into force and of giving ASIC these powers then some of the things that have come before the royal commission wouldn't have happened in the first place.

Then we get into legislating the removal of ASIC employees from the Public Service Act. That is something we support. The government's stated purpose for that is that they want to allow ASIC to be able to pay more to its employees, to attract people that it needs and to keep the employees that it needs, instead of them being taken away by industry. That's a great idea, but how are they going to fund it if they keep cutting back ASIC's budget and keep enforcing efficiency dividends that are making it less efficient at its job? This government says one thing but does another. It is effectively all bark and no bite when it comes to our corporate regulator. In fact, it's effectively left our corporate regulator not a corporate watchdog but a corporate poodle, because it keeps neutering it every time it steps forward. The government says something harsh but fails to deliver when it comes to ASIC.

They talk about strengthening the criminal and civil penalties that are available. They continue to defer and delay. They have not delivered on this. Only on Friday, in the committee that the member for Swan was just referring to, we asked ASIC about its commitment to being a strong law-enforcement body, it reeled back from saying it has a strong nexus to serious and organised crime. But when we look at what serious and organised crime actually is, we see it is quite clear that there are many offences under the Corporations Act that completely fit that nexus. Money laundering in particular is something we often see associated with corporate crime—but, no, apparently there's no nexus. Thankfully, ASIC has said that it will go back and look at this more seriously.

To conclude, we've got a problem here because the government is all bark and no bite. It is quite clear that only Labor can be trusted to make sure we have a strong corporate regulator and to make sure the recommendations of the banking royal commission are properly implemented to protect the consumers of Australia, who need strong corporate watchdog protection in this country. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Gee ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.