Watch Matt's speech here
I invite members of the chamber to cast their minds back to history and to think about the chap Henry VIII of England, a former monarch, effectively, of this great land eventually. The things about those times were the issues that Henry was confronting. He had lords, earls and other noble people that he had to keep on his side because there were threats to the ongoing viability of his position as monarch. So Henry came up with the idea of the exchequer. It was a bit of a problem for some of these nobles. They didn't really want to be having to pay a lot of money to the king, and particularly to the exchequer, especially because Henry kept having wars. They were worried about the scrutiny that was being applied by Henry's central government, but they cut a bit of a deal. They decided that, if they could just make sure they didn't have to report on things so much to King Henry, it would make their lives a bit easier.
In the times that you would expect something like this to happen—in the Middle Ages of England—Henry drew up a list of some of his favourite barons. He said: 'If you're on my favourites list, you don't need to report on your financials to the exchequer. You don't need to tell my government what's going on. It'll be fine.' We might think: 'That's the Middle Ages. That sort of makes sense.' You might also think that that wouldn't be an arrangement that would last for terribly long, and it certainly wouldn't survive over multiple terms of parliaments and governments. But then we cast our way forward to 21st century Australia where we find that it has for reasons of transition, reasons of referral of power and reasons of old Corporations Law schemes—and, quite frankly, I will not bore this chamber with the history of the Corporations Law in this country in migrating from being a state based scheme to a national scheme, and you will all thank me for that! But somehow, in that process, we ended up with a list of private companies that were exempt from the application of law as it applied to everyone else.
A fundamental tenant of this nation and of liberal democracies generally is that the law applies equally to everyone. You don't create a law and then create a special little list of your mates who don't have to comply with the law, and you especially don't create that list and never update it. This is so perverse and odd that even a former Prime Minister who was on the list couldn't get off the list when he wanted to get off the list. There is really no defence available to this government to justify now why a list from 1995—25 years ago—still exists, can't be removed and can't be fixed. For some reason, in this little area of Corporations Law that most Australians have paid no attention to, the government wants to continue to run a protection racket for this list that was set in 1995.
Twenty-five years sounds like a long time ago. But to put that in a little bit of context—for the minister at the table, in particular—if only I had been able to incorporate a private company when I was in year 9, I might have had a chance of getting on that list. That's how long this has been around. Yet now—after reviews, after recommendations and after the corporate regulator said, 'Why don't we change this and get rid of this list?'—this government is continuing to try and maintain this arcane little exemption to the Corporations Law that has existed for 25 years. There is probably not one line in the Corporations Act now that is the same as what it was 25 years ago. This is a historical anachronism if there has ever been one when it comes to Corporations Law.
I spent time prosecuting the Corporations Law. I had to do it under two different criminal law regimes. The whole regime changed in that time, but somehow these companies kept their exemption from the application of the Corporations Law. It's ridiculous. There's no justification. There's no basis that you can have to explain why we should keep an exemption. You've got this little list of people who get to play the game differently. There's no justification in principle. There's no justification in law. There's no justification in a liberal democracy as to why you would keep this some 25 years later, even if there was at the time. For the government to now want to bounce this back up to the other place as if somehow their principled position is principled just goes down with every other principled position this government has ever had.