Jeffrey Knapp

The way the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has failed to disclose relevant files on its policy making activities in its 2010 and 2011 six-month file lists  is extraordinary.

Disclosure is falling off a cliff. ASIC file lists include no references to the files that should exist for the development of numerous ASIC policies including market integrity rules, over-the-counter contracts for difference, or substantial holding disclosures. I can’t help but suspect the thinning of ASIC’s file lists may be an attempt by the agency to deny the public its right to request access to documents on agency policy-making under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the ASIC summer school at the Hilton in Sydney last week, the topic of disclosure was one of many being discussed. It is certainly important for these issues to be aired in public, however the discrepancies and omissions in ASIC’s published file lists sets a poor example to the entities it regulates. Indeed ASIC needs to demonstrate leadership in disclosure practices.

This drop off in the file numbers corresponds to a Senate inquiry into liquidators and administrators in 2010. At the time I found that ASIC had removed documents that relate to administrators running collapsed public companies, from its database of those who have been granted exemption from financial reporting.

This was an extraordinary thing for ASIC to do when its governing legislation includes the object of making information publicly available. You’d have thought they would want to keep this information public. They don’t – and I can’t think of a valid reason for ASIC modifying their public database in this way. The regulator is effectively burying information about its policy making.

Mind you, it is hard to find files. If you don’t know an ASIC file exists, then you are hardly in a position of being able to request access to documents from that file.

ASIC’s failures to disclose and be transparent about its files and its accounting exemption orders sets a regrettable example for the rest of the market place.

Jeffrey Knapp is a lecturer in financial accounting at the Australian School of Business.