Australian regulators weekly wrap — Monday, 6 February 2023

  1. UK digital assets reform (UK): the UK has set out a new regulatory regime for the crypto industry. The new rules would cover crypto assets and their acceptance onto a trading platform, making a public offer, undertaking payment transactions or remittances, arranging deals, operating a platform, custody, and mining transactions, or — interestingly — operating a node on blockchain. The Treasury also promised a “world-first regime for crypto lending”. The rules will cover cryptocurrency firms in Britain or those providing services to the UK. Firms would need a licence, along with minimum capital and liquidity requirements. The UK has made no secret of its plans to be a crypto hub for the world, and this is a major step in that direction. We need to give them some stiff competition!
  2. Crypto reform (Treasury): I attended a roundtable with Assistant Minister Stephen Jones earlier in the week, and asked him about digital assets. In short the token mapping exercise will inform the licensing and capital requirements approach, and there is an understanding that not all tokens can and should be regulated (thank God). Interestingly, the Assistant Treasurer said that his view is we need to regulate the use of the technology rather than the technology itself — the same applies to ChatGPT, which was also arose in that same discussion. Naturally, I have views on this one, including whether it is somewhat circular logic — but I will save them for the consultation on the token mapping paper!
  3. FAR (Treasury): in the above-mentioned meeting, FAR also came up. Assistant Minister Stephen Jones said is against personal fines; he won’t decouple FAR from CSLR (which the Libs want him to do); and, FAR / CSLR will be passed first quarter, which commences this Monday. Fines are a terrible idea, for reasons I have previously articulated in my opinion piece here — we need Labor to get it right the second time around. A lot is counting on it…
  4. ASIC restructure (ASIC): there will be a restructure of ASIC in February 2023 designed to: streamline enforcement; cut bureaucracy; and, deliver faster decision-making. The overhaul will cut the number of divisions, which are currently broken into multiple supervisory, enforcement and operations groups. The regulator will amends its operations — focusing primarily on financial services and wealth, and its associated enforcement group, along with some changes to markets and markets enforcement. It coincides with a large enforcement agenda — both in quantity and (notably) novel quality —which appears to have at least partially been the reason behind some high profile ASIC departures, and is covered in more detail in our CPD on the top regulatory cases of 2022 last week (please get in touch if you need the recording / CPD points). It also occurs against the backdrop of a Senate inquiry into ASIC’s effectiveness as an enforcement regulator, which reports in 2024.

Thought for the future: I have always been a firm believer in Braithwaite’s Pyramid in terms of regulatory enforcement theory (see here). In essence, a regulator should follow a well-designed roadmap from less interventionist and cheaper engagement options through to coercive, costly and highly interventionist options such as litigation. We will swing back to this approach, I believe — but not for a while to come it appears…

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