ASIC: Turnbull, Morrison flag funding increase as Government resists calls for royal commission
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have flagged potential funding increases for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), following the regulator shedding more than 200 jobs due to budget cuts since the Coalition came to power.
- Coalition outlined cut of more than $120 million over five years in 2014-15 budget
- Staff numbers have fallen across all states, with just one staffer left in NT
- Government will "ensure that we have the right measures in place ... to ensure that illegal practices are clamped down on"
The comments come as the Government resists Labor's call for a royal commission into the banking and finance sector.
Mr Morrison said ASIC had the same powers and could use them immediately, but both funding and staffing levels at the so-called "tough cop on the beat" have been falling over recent years.
The Coalition outlined a funding cut of more than $120 million to ASIC over five years in its 2014-15 budget, detailing losses of:
- $26 million in 2014-15
- $32.5 million in 2015-16
- $32.1 million in 2016-17
- $32.4 million in 2017-18
Budget papers stated: "ASIC will adjust its priorities to ensure it continues to meet its statutory objectives."
Staff numbers have fallen across all states, with a loss of more than 230 people in the two years to 2015, and the Northern Territory now has just one ASIC staffer.
Government will ensure 'the right resources' are in place
ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft told the commission's annual meeting last year they were "very thinly resourced".
"Everyone from the day I first started the job has been saying 'you don't have enough money'," he said.
Mr Medcraft has also complained that Australia is too soft on corporate criminals, telling a function in 2013 that the country was a "paradise" for white-collar criminals and the regulator was hamstrung by a lack of resources.
Mr Turnbull was asked about ASIC resourcing today.
"If ASIC needs to do more, then it's up to Greg Medcraft to identify where he needs more resources," he responded.
Mr Morrison also flagged potential funding increases for ASIC today, citing that the Government would continue working the "tough cop on the beat".
"[We will] ensure that we have the right measures in place, the right resources in place to ensure that illegal practices are clamped down on," he said.
Coalition politicians voice support for royal commission
Further comment was sought from Mr Medcraft, whose organisation has the power to call for a person to be prosecuted following an investigation or examination.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 directs ASIC to "take whatever action it can take, and is necessary, in order to enforce and give effect to the laws of the Commonwealth that confer functions and powers on it".
Conversely, the Royal Commission Act 1902 states that commissioners can fine or imprison people, but only for wrongdoing related to the Commission itself.
Giving false evidence to a hearing can result in five years' prison or a fine of up to $20,000.
They can also:
- Fine or imprison people for refusing to give evidence
- Issue an arrest warrant for people who fail to appear
A number of Coalition politicians have voiced support for a banking royal commission, including Nationals John Williams and George Christensen, while their colleagues Luke Hartsuyker and Ken O'Dowd have signalled they are open to the idea.
Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch is also in favour of the probe, arguing it is critically needed.
Source: ABC News