The distorted priorities of Australia’s corporate regulator

iron-ore-mining

This afternoon Australian mineral exploration and extraction company Hancock Prospecting and two related entities were fined $130,000. Hancock isn’t accused of failing to pay taxes – it’s accused of committing the administrative crime of filing financial accounts late with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

ASIC released a statement on the case, which you can read here.

Wind the clock back twelve months and another ASIC case provides a revealing comparison.

Jonathan Moylan is an anti-coal activist who publishes a fraudulent media release which announces a “decision” on behalf of ANZ to divest from a major Whitehaven Coal extraction project. Moylan’s conduct wipes $300 million off the value of the company in a matter of hours. He is convicted and receives a fully suspended prison sentence on condition of two years’ good behaviour and a $1000 bond. ASIC said at the time that they were “satisfied with the sentence.”

In stark terms: employ thousands of Australians, contribute billions of dollars in tax revenue but file paperwork late and receive a $130,000 fine; cause $300 million worth of economic destruction in the name of green activism and receive a slap on the wrist.

This comparison highlights the hopelessly distorted priorities of corporate regulation in this country. It’s a problem which certainly won’t be solved by the regulator itself. Rather than seeking to remedy the obvious flaws in corporate law and its own enforcement priorities, ASIC instead wants to direct resources towards rooting out “bad culture”.

ASIC has lost its way. It’s time Australia’s corporate regulator was reined in.

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