Safe Harbour & Ipso Facto: Issues for the Senate Inquiry

Legislation to implement the Government’s Safe Harbour and ipso facto reforms was tabled in Parliament on 1 June 2017, and then referred to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on 15 June 2017, as noted here.

On 22 June 2017 the House of Representatives approved the second reading of the Bill.  The Opposition speakers were each careful to highlight their support for the intention of the proposed reforms, but a review of their second reading speeches (available here, from page 22) helps identify some of the issues of detail that will occupy the  committee:

Carve out or defence? – The legislation proposes a Safe Harbour via a ‘carve out’ from director’s duties – effectively placing the onus of proof on a liquidator, which is a shift away from the concept of a defence as proposed in the Productivity Commission report, that would place the onus of proof on the director.  The Opposition has flagged its interest in understanding the move away from the Productivity Commission recommendation.

Anti-phoenix measures – The Opposition is calling for the introduction of a range of anti-phoenix measures including the introduction of a unique ‘director identification number’ with a 100-point identification check, and tougher penalties for phoenix-related offences. It is not clear whether their intention is to seek immediate amendment of the legislation to implement these measures, or use the hearings to progress the debate more generally.  The idea of a DIN appears widely supported but there would be some logistical issues to address before it could be implemented – not least the likely need to expand the ASIC register to accommodate, and link, the DINs.

Transactions depriving employees of their entitlements – The Opposition also wants to address the problems caused by transactions entered into with the intention of avoiding payment of employee entitlement liabilities.  In fact, the Government has just closed a consultation on Reforms to address corporate misuse of the FEG scheme, so this is something already underway.

Model A or Model B? The Productivity Commission proposed a Safe Harbour that would be triggered by the formal appointment of an individual as a ‘restructuring adviser,’ described in the exposure draft as the ‘Model A’ approach.  The legislation as tabled implements the ‘Model B’ approach which does not specifically require such an appointment, but rather expects the directors to undertake one or more ‘courses of action’ likely to lead to a ‘better outcome,’ and the Opposition has flagged that it would at least like to understand the reasons for the departure from the original Productivity Commission proposal.

The speeches did not identify any issues with the ipso facto protections, the benefits of which, pleasingly, seem well understood and acknowledged.

Submissions close 12 July 2017, with the committee due to report by 8 August 2017.  A copy of my submission is available here.


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