Wednesday, June 21, 2023

ASIC ‘addicted’ to secrecy, parliamentary committee claims


ASIC ‘addicted’ to secrecy, parliamentary committee claims

Patrick DurkinBOSS Deputy editor

The corporate regulator is “addicted” to secrecy and obfuscation, Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg says, after a parliamentary report rejected 11 of 13 claims for public interest immunity made by the regulator Joe Longo, who insists he is a transparency leader.

The immunity claims made by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission relate to questions by Parliament’s Economic References Committee, which is chaired by Senator Bragg and is examining the performance of the regulator.

ASIC has told the committee it is not able to provide any information about investigations into technology company Nuix, the use of sensitive insider information by superannuation trustees to maximise their personal gain and allegations of ‘fake coal’ testing by laboratory giant ALS.

ASIC chairman Joe Longo says ASIC is taking the lead in transparency. Alex Ellinghausen

The claims also relate to communications between ASIC and MPs and their staff when the inquiry was being established, which the report said left a “question of whether ASIC sought to interfere in the Senate’s work by influencing the terms of reference of the inquiry”.

Senator Bragg said an interim report tabled on Tuesday was “designed to end the secrecy and obfuscation to which ASIC is addicted”.

“Rather than engaging with the committee in a transparent and accountable manner, from the outset ASIC has chosen to attempt to undermine and influence the process of the inquiry before evidence had been gathered or hearings held,” he said.

ASIC said that releasing information about ALS may jeopardise its case against miner Terracom and former chairman Wal King, following claims about fake coal testing.

ASIC also said that despite an investigation into super fund trustees having been finalised, further information may unfairly damage the reputation of the individuals involved.

Senator Andrew Bragg says ASIC is shrouded in secrecy. Alex Ellinghausen

The report largely rejects ASIC’s immunity claims and argues the regulator is obstructing the committee’s work.

“The committee has formed a view that ASIC’s refusal to provide this information is obstructing the committee’s ability to conduct this inquiry,” the report says.

“The committee expects that ASIC will take this as an opportunity to reflect on its conduct to date and to reassess how it will better engage with the committee’s inquiry in an open and transparent manner”.

The report makes recommendations that the Senate order the provision of the information sought. The Coalition has three members on the committee, Labor two and the Greens one.

The disclosure stand-off comes after Senator Bragg accused ASIC of an “embarrassing cover up” earlier this year after Treasurer Jim Chalmers blocked an order requiring to hand over its investigation into allegations against ASIC deputy chair Karen Chester.

On Tuesday, Mr Longo gave a speech in Sydney that emphasised that ASIC is “taking the lead in transparency”.

“I encourage you to be ever more open and transparent with ASIC,” Mr Longo said. “This is not empty rhetoric, but a genuine and sincere call for further communication on a deeper level.”

“Transparency isn’t half-silvered. We don’t sit behind a one-way mirror like a detective watching an interrogation, seeing everything you do, while the market sees only its own reflection. No, true transparency must go both ways.”

But economist John Adams – whose report that ASIC investigates fewer than one per cent of complaints received helped spark the inquiry – shared the concern of the Citizens Party that Senator Bragg’s inquiry was being stonewalled.

“Labor Senator Deb O’Neill established an identical inquiry that same day through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Finance Services, and she accused Bragg of constructing a platform ‘to provide himself with an opportunity for media, not for the service of the Australian people’,” the Citizens Party said.

“Eight months later, Senator O’Neill’s inquiry has done absolutely nothing, while Senator Bragg’s inquiry has published 162 submissions, but that’s it - it hasn’t held hearings yet, or taken any other action.”

Mr Adams recently obtained Freedom of Information documents which revealed that Treasury officials concluded that his claims about ASIC’s enforcement record were “substantially correct”.

Patrick Durkin is Melbourne bureau chief and BOSS deputy editor. He writes on news, business and leadership. Connect with Patrick on Twitter. Email Patrick at