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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 11909


Mr ROBERT (FaddenAssistant Treasurer) (18:24): Let me thank the shadow minister opposite for her goodwill in seeking to punish those who would do wrong. The bill we've put forward, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Strengthening Corporate and Financial Sector Penalties) Bill 2018, seeks to raise penalties across a range of areas of the corporations law, covering a range of areas of offence: everything from AFSL through to misrepresentation and failure to put forward the best interests of consumers. We have consulted widely across all jurisdictions, states and territories to bring alignment of the penalties regime. In many instances, penalties have doubled. Some have increased three times. Some have increased five times. We're talking penalties that have increased to up to 10 years. We've looked at areas of recompense, including where recompense would have to happen up to three times in dollar terms.

The penalties we've put forward are strong, are significant and are designed to be a deterrent. This debate cannot be allowed to be a race to the bottom on who can be tougher, because that's not what this should be about. This shouldn't be about who is the strongest when it comes to penalty regimes. To take penalties 500 per cent forward, up to 10 years, sends a message that this government will not abide by those who seek to do wrong by their fellow Australians. Now, I will take it at face value that those opposite are coming at this with goodwill, that those opposite are seeking to back us in bringing penalties forward. But goodwill starts to get interesting when those opposite are saying that we need a 700 per cent increase in penalties because 500 per cent is not sufficient. That starts to look a bit like a stunt to say they're tougher than the government.

So let's be clear about what the government is seeking to do here. We are seeking a stronger penalty framework to ensure that consumers are protected from misconduct. Under this legislation, the imprisonment penalties for some of the most serious criminal offences under the Corporations Act are being increased substantially. Criminal penalties are being increased fourfold. Perhaps in a different environment those opposite would criticise us for being too harsh or too strong, but a fourfold increase apparently is not strong enough for those opposite. Let's be serious about what's happening here. These are significant penalties. This is not a race to see who can be the toughest or the hardest. This is about sensible regulation and harmonisation across laws, jurisdictions, states and territories.

Under these reforms, the maximum civil penalty for individuals will increase from $200,000 to be the greater of $1 million or five times or three times the benefit gained. I can't think of a single time in modern political history where a government has moved forward with a strengthening of a penalty regime anything like this. That those opposite think that a 500 per cent increase on civil penalties and a 400 per cent increase on criminal penalties somehow isn't enough—

Ms O'Neil: It's not enough!

Mr ROBERT: It's not enough, the shadow minister says, demonstrating that those opposite are now the big, tough cops on the beat. I would take those opposite a little more seriously if, in August 2013, the now Leader of the Opposition was not on the record saying how marvellous our financial services were—34 days before those opposite lost. That, apparently, our 400 per cent and 500 per cent increases for penalties aren't enough is simply a joke. It's a stunt, and frankly those opposite should be ashamed of themselves for seeking to make light of this and to score political points on this particular issue.