Nevertheless, it has become the soft and immovable target for all sorts of stakeholders who, it has to be said, are just doing their jobs, such as federal politicians and lobbyists.
It can’t be easy for Longo to build a culture in this environment. He has teams of people responding to parliamentary requests, including dealing with about 100 questions on notice.
Former ASIC chairman James Shipton says the organisation is unwieldy and needs to be broken apart. It is a pity Shipton’s reign was characterised by dysfunction and turmoil. Longo said the place was “pretty battered” when he turned up.
Oversight or overkill?
Parliament’s oversight of the business is essential, but the proliferation of committees and quasi-autonomous bodies questioning ASIC officials and judging its performance looks decidedly like overkill.
The Financial Regulator Assessment Authority last year examined ASIC’s effectiveness and capability on the orders of former federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
FRAA’s report was published in August and was welcomed by Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, who said ASIC was found to be effective and capable in the areas reviewed.
FRAA is expected to review ASIC’s enforcement efficiency next year after completing a review of the effectiveness and capability of APRA’s supervision and resolution functions, focusing on superannuation.
ASIC’s accountability to parliament includes having its chairman and commissioners appear before the Senate estimates economics committee and the joint parliamentary committee on corporations and financial services. The latter committee has been examining ASIC since 1990.
Separate to that committee, the Senate is conducting an inquiry into the “capacity and capability of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to undertake proportionate investigation and enforcement action”.
This inquiry was prompted by the release of a report by economist John Adams, who claimed the ratio of investigations compared to allegations of misconduct had fallen over the previous decade.
When you include random requests for ASIC officials to appear before other committees, Longo and his fellow commissioners are accountable to five or six different tentacles of parliament, not to mention regular engagement with Treasury.
The fascination with the alleged lack of urgency and efficiency in ASIC’s enforcement of white-collar crime sits oddly with the list of actions it is conducting now.
Court records show that this week, ASIC’s legal representatives are appearing in two civil cases in NSW, three criminal cases in Western Australia, and five criminal cases in Queensland. ASIC is represented in criminal cases by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Between now and the end of June, ASIC’s legal representatives, including the CDPP, will be appearing in 74 different civil and criminal cases in five states, and one matter in the High Court, court records show.
Between the end of June and August, ASIC’s legal representatives, including the CDPP, will be appearing in another 28 civil and criminal cases.
ASIC is awaiting the release of 11 judgments brought in civil cases, at least two of which were reserved by the judges in October and December 2021.