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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2887


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:58): I rise to speak in support of the Treasury Laws Amendment (ASIC Governance) Bill 2018. This bill amends the ASIC Act to provide the Governor-General with the discretion to appoint a second deputy chairperson of ASIC. We note that the government has also announced its intention to nominate Mr Daniel Crennan QC to this role. Labor supports an additional deputy chairperson. As the explanatory memorandum notes, amending the ASIC Act to provide for two deputy chairpersons will assist ASIC in operating as an effective and efficient regulator.

Senator Williams: We hope so!

Senator O'NEILL: We should talk about ASIC's budget too, Senator Williams. I understand ASIC have discovered this morning that they've got another cut from this government. But, with regard to this bill before us today, Senator Williams, we in the Labor team believe that this bill will provide greater flexibility for the commission to determine how it undertakes its oversight and other governance functions. As the explanatory memorandum notes, amending the ASIC Act to provide for two deputy chairpersons will assist ASIC in operating as an effective and efficient regulator. Having the second deputy chairperson will also support ASIC in engaging with its stakeholders to better communicate its role, its priorities and how its resources are allocated. In recent times, ASIC's role has been expanding. ASIC has new directions powers to strengthen its oversight of the new one-stop-shop dispute resolution body, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

We note that the government has also proposed that ASIC be responsible for the management of expected additional disclosures following reforms to whistleblowing laws. ASIC may soon also have new responsibilities for administering the new Asia Region Funds Passport regime. Given the shocking evidence that has been presented to the royal commission so far, it's clear that we absolutely need strong and effective financial regulation. Yet it was this government that actually cut ASIC's funding by $120 million in the 2014-15 budget. While I have been in the chamber this morning I've received by electronic communications an indication that there's been a further cut to the budget of ASIC. So you really have to question what on earth this government really thinks about what's going on at the top end of town with its reluctant entry into allowing a royal commission after two years of resisting it and after voting against it 25 times. Now here we are, supporting this bill to give further support by having a deputy chairperson appointed to ASIC, two days after the government's just cut ASIC's budget again. It simply doesn't make sense—unless you're the government, apparently; they say one thing and do another.

The government only moved to restore the funding after Labor called for a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector over two years ago, and even then it was just so that they could actually look like they were doing something whilst stubbornly resisting the royal commission. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison spent the last two years telling the Australian people that a royal commission was completely unnecessary. Those opposite had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Labor and the many victims of financial scandals to hold the royal commission. And I will acknowledge that Senator Williams was one of the first breakaways from that side to actually come and support it. In fact, the government spent around 600 days bitterly resisting the urgent need for a royal commission and, when the Prime Minister finally announced it after he either jumped or was pushed, he called it 'regrettable'.

Senator Williams: Nationals forced it.

Senator O'NEILL: Senator Williams is indicating that it was the Nationals who forced him to it.

The reality is that this is a government that even now, as it cuts the funding for ASIC, as it provides a bill here that will provide an additional deputy chairperson, is going to give a $17 billion tax cut to the banks who are before the royal commission.

The bill before us today will provide for an additional deputy chairperson for ASIC as Australia's corporate markets, financial services and consumer credit regulator. We need ASIC to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible, and that, despite the clear deception that's practised by the government around their concern for the rights of Australians to have the banking sector operate in a fair and ethical way, is the reason that we will support this bill, because it does indeed provide the second deputy chairperson to ASIC.