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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17226


Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (6:00 PM) —in reply—I thank my friend the member for Fraser for his contribution. The HIH Royal Commission (Transfer of Records) Bill 2003 will transfer the custody of certain records of the HIH Royal Commission to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. This will ensure that ASIC is able to pursue efficiently and expeditiously the referrals of possible breaches of the law made to it following the HIH Royal Commission. The government established the HIH Royal Commission following the financial collapse of the HIH Insurance Group in March 2001. The collapse affected individuals, community groups and the public generally. A key task of the HIH Royal Commission was to inquire into the possibility of breaches of law and whether possible criminal or other legal proceedings should be referred to the relevant agency. This was reflected in the terms of reference of the commission.

On 16 April this year, the government released the report from the HIH royal commissioner, the Hon. Justice Neville Owen. The report identified a number of possible breaches of the Corporations Law, and the commissioner indicated that these breaches should be referred to ASIC. The government acted immediately to refer these matters to ASIC. The government is determined to ensure that possible breaches of the law associated with the collapse of HIH are investigated and prosecuted in a timely manner. The government demonstrated its resolve in the 2003-04 budget. It provided additional funding of over $28 million to ASIC over the next two years to undertake investigations and prepare briefs for civil prosecutions. This bill is a further demonstration of the resolve of the government. The transfer of records of the HIH Royal Commission to ASIC achieved by this bill will ensure that ASIC has access to, and subsequent use of, royal commission records. This will avoid potentially lengthy procedural requirements and legal uncertainties that could hamper the effective investigation of those matters identified by the HIH Royal Commission.

The bill also ensures that ASIC is able to use the records for the purposes of performing its functions and powers. Importantly, this will also allow ASIC to share information with other Commonwealth institutions, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, in support of their functions and powers. In addition, the bill maintains the key protections that currently attach to the royal commission records transferred to ASIC. In particular, the protections for individuals against self-incrimination that would usually apply to the records of a royal commission are maintained. In addition, any right to claim legal professional privilege over the transferred records is preserved. As a further safeguard, the transferred records are afforded the same confidentiality as information collected by ASIC in the course of its operations.

When the shadow minister commenced his speech, he referred to statements made by members of the government from time to time in relation to Senate obstructionism and the fact that the opposition often obstructs the government's mandates and the government's agendas in the Senate. There is no doubt that the government have had a mandate to bring about a number of changes, particularly as we seek to implement the policies we took to the last election. There is no doubt, in our view, that there has been Senate obstruction and there is ongoing Senate obstruction. I do, however, want to thank the shadow minister and the opposition for their cooperation in relation to this bill. There is no doubt that there has been a high level of cooperation, and the government appreciate this. As the member for Fraser said, this is a very important bill. It is in the national interest for it to proceed and be implemented as expeditiously as possible, and it is particularly important that the bill proceeds through both chambers of the parliament. I do thank the member for Fraser for facilitating its passage through the other place. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.