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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1611


Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (13:18): How often is it that we have a government body lauded by business and professionals like this? This is what the Law Council has had to say about the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee:

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

The Australian Institute of Company Directors says:

Regardless of one's views as to the recommendations proposed by CAMAC on particular issues, it has played a critical role in identifying, explaining and analysing corporate law and market related problems.

George Durbridge, a consultant with Herbert Smith Freehills—Freehills, that big defender of anything to do with the public sector—says:

CAMAC has issued at least one substantial report in every year of its existence, often two or three.

Professor Ian Ramsay, University of Melbourne Law School, is quoted as saying about the abolition of CAMAC:

That's the complete irony of this. It cuts directly against the government's own philosophy and position about facilitating business

The Chief Executive of CAMAC says that the government is losing a valuable resource, and that:

Access to this brains trust cannot be replicated by Treasury.

You have all these people who have reflected in such strong and positive terms about CAMAC, and what is the government's position? The government's position is to kill it off—it will just wipe it out, having just come to office, and for what reason? The reasons offered are, frankly, bizarre. One of them is, 'Well, the National Commission of Audit told us to do it, so we are doing it; they said that there would be an efficiency made in doing this, and so we are cutting it.' Really? How much is being saved by getting rid of the three officers who work in CAMAC or support CAMAC's work—a body that has been around in various forms and that in one way or another has been providing this type of independent and impartial advice since 197? It has been re-formed and reshaped until its more modern version, which came about in 2002. What is the grand saving from getting rid of an impartial body like CAMAC, with its three people—it is $1 million. And the government tells us it is doing this because the National Commission of Audit told them to do it. The National Commission of Audit also wanted to take a fairly significant hammer to the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme, and that is billions of dollars being directed to certain parts of the country. What happened? That was left alone. When it comes to CAMAC and the enormous $1 million strain it is putting on the budget, it is being got rid of. This is the mentality of efficiency and streamlining that would suggest that if you ripped your car aerial out you would be more aerodynamic. This is the type of thinking we see from the government in the abolition of CAMAC. It is bizarre.

We heard the last speaker, the member for Dobell, being asked to defend this, and he could not actually get to the substance of the matter. Instead, we heard the mantra that comes out of this government—which only ever focuses on what happened in the last three years and cannot think about what should happen in the next three. And, when they put forward ideas that are as useless as this one that is being put forward now, they cannot defend themselves. There is no ability in this government—in anything they do—to put a cogent, logical, substantive and defensible position forward as to why they would put these types of reforms on the table. CAMAC has demonstrably been seen to provide independent and fearless advice in corporations reform. So why would it surprise me that a party which is responsible for deforming FoFA—and which is doing whatever it can to bend itself to the will of major financial interests—takes this position? And of course, that is the only logical consistent position that this government could have: 'Well, we do not want anyone independent giving us advice on how to manage the Corporations Law or markets advice.' Look at their track record: when it came to doing the right thing on financial advice, or on corporations reform, what did they do? They listened to the big end of town on FoFA. And they have—

Ms Ryan: They tapped the map.

Mr HUSIC: As the member for Lalor rightly says, they tapped the map. They have failed to do the right thing by the broader community; they do the right thing by a powerful section of the community—a section of the community which has enough resources to defend itself instead gets defended by this government. And obviously, this is why we say that the kind of thing we are seeing here with CAMAC is not about reform, it is not about efficiency, and it is not about deregulation; it is about getting rid of someone who provides frank and fearless advice. You do not just have to be Gillian Triggs in this country to feel the heat of a government that refuses to acknowledge frank and fearless advice. This is their modus operandi. Their modus operandi is to get rid of anyone who stands in their way by having independent thought and frank advice. In this case, it costs the economy—as has already been identified by the Law Council, who say that for every year that CAMAC has been in place, CAMAC has provided a substantive report that is well-thought through, and that can advance the case for reform—that is every single year. And so, this is not a demonstration of efficiency; this is the most superior demonstration of cutting your nose off to spite your face. And it is all being done to save $1 million. Why would you do that? The argument advanced by coalition is: 'Well, we will just wrap them up into Treasury. We will be able to get this advice. When we consult with the private sector, they will give us this advice'—as if the private sector, and the type of talent that would drive the type of advice that CAMAC would normally provide, were just going to do it gratis. The idea that the private sector will be a charity to the federal government, and that they will just provide this advice for free is rubbish. They will not. They will, understandably, do what is in their own interests in advancing their own case, when they consult with Treasury in the future on the types of matters that would have been dealt with by CAMAC. But, if Treasury wants the type of advice that was once provided by CAMAC, they will not be getting it for free. They will have to pay for it. Imagine how much in consultants' fees—and we will be watching!—Treasury will be racking up to get this advice. And you know what? It is going to be more than $1 million in total.

Mr Thistlethwaite: That is just for one report!

Mr HUSIC: Exactly; as the member for Kingsford Smith rightly points out: they would probably get that for one report in one year. CAMAC, which is able to attract talented people from across business and academia who have done this work; CAMAC, which would sit within the government, will now be abolished. And as a result, we will now see this amount of money used to support, no doubt, a plethora of consultants' reports—to support the work that CAMAC once did quite efficiently. It is simply bizarre. You cannot justify what is going on: here. It has been rightly pointed out—and this has been raised with the government—that trying to replicate CAMAC's role within Treasury is going to be a hard ask. During the consultation process, the Governance Institute of Australia has said that: 'Treasury cannot replicate the independent research and stakeholder consultation undertaken by CAMAC due to its charter of responding to government policy.' So if you want CAMAC to provide the independent advice, and if you want people to give it in a frank and fearless way, and if you want them to do it in a way which provides a much more rigorous and robust way to determine policy, then you set them up as independent. You do not set them within Treasury. Everyone gets that when you set them within Treasury, they going to do what they believe is right for whoever is in power at whatever stage of government. They will do what Treasury does, and which it is their task and their responsibility to do, to provide advice in that way. CAMAC was deliberately set up in another way. These are the types of comments being made—the one that I have just quoted, and this one, also from the Governance Institute: 'We also are of the view that Treasury will not be able secure access to the calibre of expertise represented by the members of CAMAC in any ongoing and timely fashion or at comparable cost.' Again, I would respectfully say that for the $1 million you save now, you are going to pay way more for that type of advice down the track. It makes no sense. This is not about efficiency. This is not about making government work smarter.

Mr Bowen: They have blundered it.

Mr HUSIC: The shadow treasurer is absolutely right: the government has blundered in this, because it will find that, in some way shape or form, it will have to resuscitate this. It will be compelled to. It cannot sustain itself by doing this within Treasury. In time, the corporate sector of this country will also want that to happen—because they will want to see independent advice being put forward. This is the insanity of what we are seeing right now. The other point I would make is in terms of the quality of CAMAC's work: I would commend, as many have done, the work that CAMAC has done in investigating a critical policy area that will drive innovation into the future—that is, the financing of innovation through a platform known as crowdsourced equity funding. They were tasked with this job by Labor when we were in government. They brought down their report in May of last year. The government, saying it would respond, delayed and delayed and has now put the reform process into hibernation, because, apparently, we will not see any legislation put before the House until Spring. The CAMC work in this area was widely recognised as being well researched and well thought out and it is something that is certainly worth discussing further.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43 and the debate may be resumed at a later hour. The honourable member will have leave to continue his remarks then.