ASIC chief's overseas trips draw criticism

Adele Ferguson, Ben Butler and Ruth Williams November 23, 2013   The AGE

Globetrotting... Greg Medcraft's travel this year

Globetrotting... Greg Medcraft's travel this year.

Paris, New York, London and St Petersburg are among cities visited by Australia's top corporate regulator, Greg Medcraft, during extensive taxpayer-funded travel that has caused him to miss crucial parliamentary hearings into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

A Fairfax Media investigation reveals Mr Medcraft has spent at least 51 days overseas in the first 10 months of this year, not including the time spent travelling to and from Australia. He flies business class, funded from ASIC's budget.

Mr Medcraft, who has already drawn fire from Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Defence Minister David Johnston, was in the Russian city of St Petersburg during a Senate hearing on June 5 that sparked an inquiry into the performance of ASIC.

ASIC is under intense scrutiny over its handling of a string of corporate collapses and financial scandals, including the misconduct of at least seven financial planners employed by the Commonwealth Bank.

In April, he was overseas for at least half the month, jetting to Beijing, London, Dublin, Washington, New York and Delhi.

 In June he went to St Petersburg, Montreal, Toronto, Basel, Paris and Madrid. September took him to Luxembourg, Paris and London. He went to Brussels in February and Wellington in July. Much of Mr Medcraft's travel is related to his role as chairman of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), a job he took on this year with the blessing of then federal treasurer Wayne Swan.

Jeffrey Knapp, a lecturer in the school of business at the University of NSW, said the role was one that other top-level regulators would not take on because it was a ''distraction'' from their main job.

''It does not look good to have the head of a national regulator regularly out of the nation, not on the ground doing what needs to be done in their own country,'' Mr Knapp said. ''It is sort of like a prime minister taking a posting at the UN at the same time.''

Nationals senator John Williams, a driving force behind the Senate inquiry into ASIC, said Mr Medcraft should spend more time getting his own organisation in order. ''He shouldn't worry about the world's problems until he fixes Australia's first,'' he said. But ASIC spokesman Matthew Abbott said many of the regulatory problems facing Australia ''need a global solution''.

''Having Greg as IOSCO chair means we have an Australian contesting and driving international financial services policy,'' he said. ''That is, we have an Australian looking out for Australia.''

Last year, Senator Cormann attacked Mr Medcraft as Wayne Swan's ''personal appointment'' and accused him of trying to ''hijack the policy agenda''.

His attack was echoed in June by Senator Johnston, who questioned the appointment of Mr Medcraft in violation of the then-government's ''merit-based'' public sector appointment process.

Alex Malley, chief executive of accounting body CPA Australia, said international travel ''must be unambiguously focused on supporting your core business''.

''Time and again we see that ASIC has taken its eye off the ball with a leadership distracted by role creep and an over-reliance on US and British policy thinking,'' he said.

A spokeswoman for Treasurer Joe Hockey endorsed Mr Medcraft and his role at IOSCO. ''The Treasurer is supportive of the chair,'' she said.