Last updated: October 2018

Introduction

Businesses that operate in Australia may be subject to a range of regulators that specialise in areas such as investment, competition, and taxation. These regulators oversee the conduct of companies, enforce compliance with legislation, and protect consumers.

Australia is committed to a fair and transparent regulatory environment and has eleven main regulatory bodies you may deal with when doing business in Australia.

 

Foreign Investment Review Board

The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) is a non-statutory organisation formed in 1976 within the Federal Treasury to provide foreign investment policy advice to the Treasurer and the Federal Government.

The FIRB’s advisory role includes assessing investment proposals submitted by foreign interests and making recommendations to the Treasurer on the compatibility of those proposals with government policy and the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (Cth). FIRB also provides information on the Government’s policies to prospective foreign investors and potential investors alike.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is an independent statutory authority established in 1995. Its primary role is to administer Australia’s main law promoting competition and fair trading, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). In doing so, it safeguards against anti-competitive and unfair market practices; prevents anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions; enforces provisions relating to product safety and liability; and protects consumers.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) is an independent statutory authority that was formed in 1998 to manage financial institutions, and ensure stable, efficient and competitive financial systems. Its regulatory functions extend to supervising banks, life insurers, private health insurers, general and reinsurance companies, building societies, credit unions, friendly societies, and superannuation funds.

APRA has the power to require financial organisations to observe prudential standards. It can intervene, where necessary, to protect the interests of depositors, policy-holders and members. In addition, it has far-reaching investigative and administrative powers.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission

The Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) is an independent statutory regulator of Australian registered companies.

ASIC’s main role is to administer the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), which regulates the incorporation, operations and management of companies. It also oversees the conduct of companies and financial markets to ensure integrity and fairness. In addition, ASIC protects consumers by regulating the advice, sale and disclosure of financial products and services. This ensures investors are confident and informed participants in the financial system, and that information about companies and bodies is made available to the public.

ASIC has far-reaching powers, including to create conduct rules for financial markets, stop the issue of financial products, investigate suspected breaches of the Corporations Act, issue infringement notices and ban individuals from providing financial services.

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) is a financial intelligence agency with regulatory responsibility for anti–money laundering and counter-terrorism financing. Specifically, AUSTRAC investigates and prosecutes terrorist financing, serious and organised crime, money laundering and tax evasion.

It oversees the compliance of more than 14,000 Australian businesses in five key sectors: financial services, gambling, bullion dealing, remittance service providers and cash dealers. 

AUSTRAC engages in a two-way exchange of information and intelligence with equivalent regulators in foreign jurisdictions. 

Australian Securities Exchange

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) was formed in 1987 and is one of the world’s leading financial market exchanges. It offers a range of services, including listing, trading, clearing and settlement of equities, derivatives, and future- and fixed-interest securities. It has branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Chicago, Hong Kong and London.

The ASX creates, monitors and enforces its own listing, operating and settlement rules for ASX-listed entities. It does this through its ASX Compliance division, which has the authority to make certain compliance and enforcement decisions.

The ASX has also created the ASX Corporate Governance Council, which brings together business, shareholder and industry groups to recommend the best corporate governance practices for ASX-listed entities. 

In addition to the ASX, ASIC and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) have powers to oversee and enforce the laws and regulations that generally govern financial markets in Australia. 

Australian Taxation Office

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) administers the federal tax system and collects taxes on the income and capital gains of individuals and businesses for the Federal Government. The ATO is headed by the Commissioner of Taxation.

Australia’s income tax law consists mainly of the Income Tax Act 1986 (Cth), the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth), the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth) and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth), as well as the ATO’s administrative rulings and court decisions.

Fringe benefits provided to employees are subject to a separate tax regime under the Fringe Benefits Tax Act 1986 (Cth) and the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 (Cth). Australia’s goods and services tax mainly comes under the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 (Cth). 

The ATO administers the process under which individuals and companies self-assess their taxes, conducting random audits to verify assessments. It collects excise on tobacco, fuel and petroleum products, and alcohol. It also administers the Higher Education Loan Program and the private health insurance rebate, and is responsible for the fiscal regulation of Australia’s superannuation system. 

Reserve Bank of Australia

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is a statutory authority that performs Australia’s central banking functions.

It is responsible for the following: 

  • Monetary policy – It sets the cash rate (the interest rate on overnight loans in the money market), which influences other interest rates more generally (that is, mortgage and corporate lending interest rates). The RBA has a duty to maintain price stability, full employment and economic prosperity. It seeks to achieve this by setting monetary policy to maintain inflation at 2–3 per cent over the medium term.
  • Market operations – As part of its monetary policy function, the RBA sets a target for the cash rate. It uses its open market operations to keep the rate as close as possible to that target. The RBA also regularly transacts in foreign exchange and foreign asset markets. In addition, it manages Australia’s foreign currency reserves, which it sometimes deploys in the foreign exchange and domestic cash markets to support policy operations.
  • Financial stability – The RBA has a longstanding responsibility to maintain the stability of the financial system. It has a role in mitigating the risk to the financial system of financial disturbances and in responding to any disturbances.
  • Payments and infrastructure – The RBA, through its Payments System Board, has a mandate to help promote efficiency and competition in the payments system and the overall stability of the financial system. It has a regulatory role in ensuring that the infrastructure that supports the clearing and settlement of transactions in financial markets is operated so as to promote financial stability.
  • Financial services – It provides a range of banking services to the Federal Government, its agencies, overseas central banks and official institutions. As Australia’s central bank, the RBA manages the Government’s core accounts and provides transactional banking services to the Government and its agencies.  

Australian Energy Regulator

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) regulates wholesale and retail energy markets, and energy networks in Australia. It monitors national energy legislation and rules, enforces compliance and investigates breaches.

Electricity networks and natural gas pipelines are subject to maximum revenue limits, which the AER sets – although it does not set retail energy prices.

As a wholesale energy market regulator, the AER monitors market dispatch and prices, demand forecasts, network constraints and outages, participant bidding and rebidding, and forecasts of production and capacity. 

The AER also assists the ACCC with energy-related issues arising under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), including those relating to enforcement and merger clearances. 

IP Australia

IP Australia is a Federal Government agency that administers the registration of intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation for patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeders’ rights.

IP Australia is a division of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, but it operates independently in relation to financial matters. It incorporates the Patents, Designs and Trade Marks offices.

It is also responsible for the World Intellectual Property Organization, helping to strengthen IP rights systems through multilateral treaties.

.au Domain Administration

As an Australian not-for-profit company, .au Domain Administration (auDA) was formed in 1999 to oversee policy and self-regulation in the .au domain space.

Although the Federal Government holds reserve powers in relation to domain names under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), it endorsed auDA as the appropriate body to administer this space in 2000. 

auDA’s key role is to manage the .au zone file, ensuring it is up to date and always available. It also develops and administers domain name policy, provides licences, implements consumer safeguards and facilitates dispute resolution.

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