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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21731

Mr BAIRD (2:22 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer update the House on the investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission into allegations concerning Offset Alpine Printing and certain individuals? What support will the corporate regulator receive to continue to vigorously enforce Australia's corporate laws?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Cook for his question in relation to this. I can inform the House that on Friday the Australian Securities and Investments Commission announced the establishment of a special team to review reported information concerning Offset Alpine Printing. The investigation will be focusing on the veracity of information previously provided to the commission in the Federal Court in connection with the beneficial ownership of shares. Under section 64 of the ASIC Act it is an offence if a person in the course of an ASIC examination gives information or makes a statement that is false or misleading in a material particular, and that offence carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.

The government have increased funding for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission quite substantially over recent years. In the 2002-03 budget, an additional $90 million was provided over four years. In this year's budget, an additional $12.3 million was provided over four years to assist with enforcement activities on accounting and an additional $12.3 million was provided over four years for corporate insolvency. As I have said on a number of occasions, from this government's point of view we expect the law to be enforced without fear or favour. We do not believe that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission should give precedence to people because of their position or their connections. We think it is important that all members of the Australian public are subject to prosecution where the corporate regulator believes that to be appropriate.

Members will be aware that there has been a campaign run against the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in this place by the member for Werriwa over a number of years. He has been interjecting in the course of this answer to continue that attack on ASIC and its chairman. He has put that attack in place over a number of years because of his complaint that civil proceedings were brought against, to use his words, `the son of a Labor icon'. That was in a speech that he made in this House of Representatives. From the point of view of the government, regardless of who one's father is—or, indeed, who one's son is—where there is evidence to bring proceedings, the corporate regulator should do so without fear or favour.

Mr COSTELLO —And the member for Werriwa continues his vendetta against the Chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to this day in this House. Corporate regulators need support to bring proceedings to enforce the corporate regulation in this country. They will get that support from this government—without fear or favour—to bring those proceedings. Nobody should jump to any conclusions, because this ought to come into a court of law, but the moment that people in this parliament suggest—as the member for Werriwa has done—that some should be off limits because of blood relations, that will undermine the whole of corporate regulation in this country.

In that context, I want to endorse the words yesterday of Senator Conroy, who apparently can see something that the member for Werriwa cannot. When he was asked by Barrie Cassidy on the Insiders program whether they should `let the cards fall where they may', Senator Conroy—who, I hasten to say, although he does not know a great deal in the area, knows a great deal more than the member for Werriwa—said:

ASIC have done a good job, David Knott has done a good job over recent years in not being prepared to look at reputations. He's been prepared to apply the law as he's seen it and pursue anybody, no matter how high profile, in doing his job.

Well said, Senator Conroy—a repudiation of the member for Werriwa!