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Thursday, 30 November 2000
Page: 23164

Mr ANDREWS (3:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Would the minister advise the House of the consequences of the failure of the states to agree to referring Corporations Law responsibility to the Commonwealth? What effect will this have on the progress of the government's corporate law reform program? Finally, what are the consequences for business confidence?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —I would like to thank the member for Menzies, who certainly is a very competent lawyer who will have a keen interest in this matter. When it comes to the Corporations Law, the Commonwealth has the same objectives today as it did when an agreement was made with the states in 1990. We want Australia's one million companies to have one rule of law, whether they be in Bendigo or Bathurst; we want Australia's millions of company employees to have the same protection under company law whether they are based in Fremantle or in Fairfield; we want Australian industries such as building and construction, transport and storage, tourism and health, to have the same single law applied for companies across Australia; and, when it comes to Australia's seven million shareholders, we want them to have the same information in the same prospectus with the same investment returns whether they live in Launceston or Fitzroy Crossing.

We ask: why are the states determined to now put in place a new Corporations Law scheme that could end up with six different laws applying across Australia? Why are they prepared to do it? The states with their current proposal want the ability to cherry pick any new corporate law scheme to suit their individual purposes. At a time when trillions of investment dollars move into companies around the world each day, we have Premier Beattie wanting the 90,000 companies in Queensland to face investment uncertainty as a result of some political stunts. In Victoria, where the member for Menzies is based, Premier Bracks wants 174,000 companies to worry more about political stunts on industrial relations than the certainty of incorporation or the cost of issuing different prospectuses with different laws right around Australia.

The Commonwealth has bent over backwards to try to accommodate the states and their concerns in relation to the referral of powers. We have put in place every practical, workable safeguard they have needed to protect the intention of the referral. We have gone further in the corporations agreement to protect state rights than ever before, and the time has come for commonsense to prevail. The Commonwealth stands ready to continue to negotiate with the states in good faith but, ultimately, if the states are not willing to trade, we are left with no option but to implement our own laws based on our own powers. One hundred years ago the states could not agree on a railway gauge across Australia. Today the Corporations Law is as significant. It is vital that we have one system for one nation.