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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1604


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (12:50): I speak today on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Amendment. (Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee Abolition) Bill 2014. The member for Moncrieff, in his former capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, has told us that:

This bill fulfils a commitment made by the government in the 2014-15 budget to abolish CAMAC and its legal committee as part of the effort to achieve a smaller and more rational government footprint.

I must say, I am shocked that any member of this shambles of a Commonwealth government can utter the phrase 'rational government' with a straight face.

But the real problem is the member for Moncrieff's claim that this bill will achieve a smaller government. This government talks a lot about deregulation, about red tape and about 'smaller government'. I do not cavil with the principles underlying that kind of rhetoric. Of course, we should strive to regulate in the most efficient manner possible. Of course, we should restrict government to activities where we are confident that government intervention will serve the public good. Of course, it is the task of every Commonwealth government to find savings and efficiencies. Labor did all those things in our time in government.

But this Abbott Liberal government does not want to do the hard work required to achieve those ends. The modern Liberal Party, it seems, clings to an increasing doctrinaire view of the role of government. They think that any cut is a good cut—that every and any saving is justified. The past nearly 18 months of government has shown just how wrongheaded this approach is. Since its election, this government has pushed to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. This body, of course, has been publicly defended by those it regulates. The charities sector has rallied to the value and the usefulness of this agency, which was established by the former Labor government. It is an object lesson for the Abbott Liberals that not all regulation is to be opposed, and the government has now signalled a reversal on its foolish course of action in relation to the ACNC.

The government also sought to abolish the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. This is actually a great example of the wrongheaded approach that this Liberal government has taken to regulation and oversight. The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor is a very inexpensive office that, in fact, investigates whether onerous antiterror and counterterror provisions are justified. It is an oversight agency charged with reviewing and making annual reports to government and the parliament on whether or not counter-terrorism legislation should be continued in force. So it is right to think of it as a kind of deregulatory agency, but that was apparently entirely missed by this government in its rush to abolish and cut where ever it thought it could.

I was very happy to see the Liberal government back away from this measure, too, and that since realising the error of their ways have filled the vacancy they allowed to occur when the first occupant of the job of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Bret Walker SC of the New South Wales bar, ceased in his three-year term in April this year. The government allowed the position to remain vacant for several months because they were intent on abolishing the position, but, having seen the error of their ways, they have now at least appointed someone to act in the position pending security clearances being completed. And, of course, not only has the government reversed its decision to abolish this small agency, but has seen fit, appropriately, to give some new tasks to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor in relation to legislation that passed through the parliament towards the end of last year.

Today, with this bill, we see yet another example of the Liberal government not being able to see the wood for the trees: yet another ill-considered cut, yet another time that the Liberal Party is wilfully blind to the demonstrated value of a particular government body—a value that is apparently inconvenient to this Liberal government's ideological commitments. This bill would abolish the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee. Since 1978, the Commonwealth has had an independent research-based reform body focused on corporations and financial markets. This started with the Companies and Securities Law Review Committee, in 1978, and was followed by the Corporations and Securities Advisory Committee, in 1989, which became CAMAC, in 2002, following the referral of corporations powers from the states to the Commonwealth, when corporation regulation became an entirely Commonwealth matter. In the time that it has operated under that name, CAMAC has produced dozens of reports, and while there are far too many to list all of them, some of the recommendations that members of this House might be familiar with in more recent times are reports and recommendations that CAMAC made in relation to continuous disclosure, company restructuring to avoid liquidation, executive remuneration, and directors' liability. All of them are core matters in relation to corporate regulation; all of them are matters of tremendous interest to the work of this parliament and to the corporate community in Australia; and all of them are at a particularly expert level, because that is the way in which CAMAC has operated now for many years.

CAMAC is a statutory body corporate, but it comprises part-time members appointed by a Treasury portfolio minister—we learn this from the explanatory memorandum—under section 147 of the ASIC Act. As the explanatory memorandum makes clear, members of CAMAC are appointed in a personal capacity on the basis of their knowledge and experience in business, financial markets, law, economics or accounting. Then, we are told, CAMAC is supported by a full-time executive of three staff. That is where the supposed saving is drawn from—the abolition of the full-time executive of three staff is going to marvellously save a great deal of money for the Commonwealth. We are told that it is a couple of million dollars over the forward estimates, and for that the government is prepared to sacrifice the immense knowledge and the immense experience that it has been able to harness for the public good through the time spent by the part-time members of CAMAC for many years now in advising the government and the community on matters of importance in corporate regulation. It is an independent body and it is an expert body, and it brings to public discussion of corporate regulation a great deal more than might be possible from a full-time staffed body, because it harnesses the expertise of people working in the private sector; it harnesses the expertise of people working in academia; and it harnesses expertise of people who might have no wish to be full-time employees of the Commonwealth, but are more than happy to give up their time, experience and knowledge in the cause of an informed debate on matters of corporate regulation. The independence and the expertise of the members of CAMAC mean that it has been a resource utilised by governments and opposition alike in policy formulation. There is a very, very good recent example of this in the report CAMAC produced on crowdsourced equity funding, which my colleague the member for Chifley utilised in developing his excellent recent discussion paper on this topic.

Apart from members opposite—government members and backbenchers—it is hard to find a single voice anywhere in Australia that supports the decision that this government has wrongly made to scrap CAMAC. I would start with the comment made by Professor Ian Ramsay from the University of Melbourne. Professor Ramsay is a person of long experience and great eminence in corporate regulation. He said: 'It's very regrettable that for the saving of three salaries a committee that has worked long and hard over decades to basically facilitate business has been cut. It's been cut with little thought and little understanding of its role.' And, despite that comment by Professor Ramsay, none of the speeches from those opposite have suggested that any understanding or any thought has yet appeared on the government side.

The Business Law Section of the Law Council of Australia wrote to Senator Cormann about this decision. Their letter was very similar in effect to the sentiments expressed by Professor Ramsay, stating:

CAMAC has delivered a substantial quantity of first-class reports and discussion papers very economically.

…   …   …

We submit that if CAMAC is abolished, the Government will not be able to secure access to this level of expertise and experience at comparable cost.

George Durbridge, again someone of tremendous experience in corporate regulation, wrote an article titled 'CAMAC to be abolished', published on the website of lawyers Herbert Smith Freehills, which includes the statement:

If CAMAC did not exist, we would have had to invent it. If it ceases to exist, we will have to reinvent it.

The Institute of Company Directors—hardly known for their radical views—say that they 'strongly oppose the abolition of CAMAC' and that they 'recommend that the proposed abolition not proceed'.

It is incredible to me, and I think to people who are bringing any objective view to bear on this matter, that the current crop of parliamentary Liberals have gone so far down the rabbit hole of anti-government rhetoric that they now agitate to destroy institutions which Australian business insists are invaluable. I will repeat that: this is a government intent on destroying institutions which Australian business says are invaluable. For just a couple of million dollars of savings, they will destroy a body whose output supports the smooth operation of vast parts of our economy. It is a decision to be condemned. This legislation should be condemned. The government should be ashamed of itself for the way in which it is blindly pursuing its anti-government ideology.