Federal Treasury's new proposals: reforms to corporate misconduct penalties, the regulatory sandbox and whistleblower protection

03 November 2017

The Australian Government Treasury department (Treasury) has commenced consultation on a number of new proposals which will have significant implications for financial institutions and other corporations.

Treasury has last week released draft legislation and position papers in respect of the following:

  • ASIC Enforcement Review (Enforcement Paper) – which proposes to strengthen corporate and financial misconduct penalties;
  • Enhanced Regulatory Sandbox – which includes draft legislation and draft regulations aimed to encourage further participation in Australia’s regulatory sandbox (Sandbox Legislation); and
  • Whistleblower Reforms – which will introduce a consistent whistleblower protection regime under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) and Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth) (Tax Act).
Enforcement Paper

The Enforcement Paper makes a number of proposals that would see corporations face a stricter and harsher penalty regime than that which exists under the Corporations Act and National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth).  Maximum terms of imprisonment and civil penalty amounts would be increased and the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) would be empowered to disgorge the profits of wrongdoers by commencing civil penalty proceedings.

Treasury is inviting submissions on the Enforcement Paper with the consultation period closing on 17 November 2017.

Sandbox Legislation

Following the initial Sandbox Regulatory regime introduced in December 2016, the Government is seeking to expand the regime to allow sandbox participants (in certain circumstances) to provide holistic advice on superannuation and life insurance and domestic and international securities, to issue and facilitate consumer credit and non-cash payment products and to provide crowd-funding services.

Under the expanded regime, ASIC will be able to grant conditional exemptions from the licencing requirements in order to encourage innovation.

The draft exposure Bill and Regulations together with explanatory material is available here.

Submissions on the draft bill close 3 November 2017 with submissions on the draft regulations closing 1 December 2017.

Whistleblower Reforms

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Whistleblowers) Bill 2017 (Whistleblower Bill) will streamline and expand the existing whistleblower protection regime in the Corporations Act and introduce a separate but near identical regime in the Tax Act.

If enacted in its current form the Whistleblower Bill will:

  • Expand the definition of “eligible whistleblower” and the persons to which a whistleblower may disclose material;
  • Expand protections available to whistleblowers;
  • Penalise the disclosure of a whistleblower’s identity; and
  • Impose a requirement on public companies and large proprietary companies to maintain a whistleblower policy.

Submissions on the Whistleblower Bill close on 3 November 2017.  The Government intends to introduce the bill into Parliament before 7 December 2017.

HWL Ebsworth’s team of specialists is able to assist clients in responding to the proposed changes including the making of submissions.  If you would like more information or assistance in relation to the proposed reforms, please contact a member of our team.

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