ASIC’s not out to protect the little guy

Allan Asher writes: Re. “ASIC’s problems start at the top” (Friday). A good story about ASIC but pretty shallow at the same time. I reckon the deeper story is about a policy trend which has been around for 15 years or so. In many regulatory bodies in OECD economies with responsibility for tax, utilities, competition, environmental law enforcement, there has been a policy fashion for “risk based” regulation which is built on the hubristic concept that regulators really know what goes on in regulated enterprises. Errors have been compounded by a related trend in which regulators imagine themselves to have “adult” relationships with “clients” rather than adversarial relationships. Guess what? They get done over every time. As Deputy Chair of the ACCC I was responsible for enforcement and the early part of energy market regulation.  One consequence of our tough regulatory approach was to lose jurisdiction of financial services and to see owners of energy assets gut the regulatory scheme. These are lessons to remember.

On talk-fests and dangerous ideas

Matthew Cummins writes: Re. “You can’t fight in the war room, or why FODI is a stupid idea” (Wednesday). It seems that we can discuss dangerous ideas as long as they are not too dangerous. This reminds me of that ridiculous gathering hosted by KRudd when first elected where he took the best and brightest to Canberra in many spheres to find out what we should do as a society. I was involved in the water industry at the time and I remember saying to a colleague that not one useful idea would ever see the light of action from that meeting and I think that has proved correct. Why? Because when you have problems in a sector, the very last people you want advising you are the people whose advice and actions have produced the present mess that now needs solutions. Rundle has alluded to this — an idea is much bigger than its current manifestation. You can’t discuss an idea, dangerous or otherwise, without the societal mores and philosophy that got us to that point. Irrigation is driven by short term economics which is driven by climate which is driven by population growth. Honour killings are driven by tribal mores and religion, etc.  If we really want to discuss dangerous ideas just put this up: Can the Earth survive the human species?