Privatising Public Information: The Sale of the ASIC Business Registers

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The Federal Government has commenced the tender process for sale of the Business Registers currently operated by ASIC.

The model of future operations implied in the call for registration of interest looks to involve the private operator relying on revenue from sale of information and products based on the information in the register, with Government continuing to set and receive the fees charged to companies and others required to lodge information. An alternative model would involve the operator setting and receiving fees from those required to lodge information, and making collected information available free of charge to users.

Either model (or variants in between) requires regulatory oversight of fees and charges because of the monopoly position of the operator. Maximising social benefits from the creation and use of information seems more consistent with the alternative model (or some variant thereof), but this may not maximise government revenue from the sale process. It is important that the distinction between the registry sale (and fees/taxes charged to those required to register) and the current investigation of a funding model for ASIC based on levies on regulated entities (rather than government budget allocation) be made clear. They are not interrelated, and the fees involved in each are based on quite different justifications.

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This paper was prepared by Professor Kevin Davis, Research Director of the Australian Centre for Financial Studies, who was also a member of the Financial System (Murray) Inquiry.

The ACFS Financial Regulation Discussion Paper series provides independent analysis and commentary on current issues in financial regulation with the objective of promoting constructive dialogue among academics, industry practitioners, policymakers and regulators and contributing to excellence in Australian financial system regulation.

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