ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft has vowed to used his $80 million "war chest" to pursue the manipulation of the bank bill swap rate (BBSW) through the court system.
A panel of ASIC executives answered questions about the ongoing investigation into manipulations of the BBSW before Senate Estimates in Canberra yesterday.
ASIC commissioner Cathie Armour said the "ongoing investigation" into past conduct regarding the BBSW commenced in 2012 and is now at a "very advanced stage".
To date, the regulator has accepted enforceable undertakings from three banks – UBS, ANZ and BNP Paribas – regarding efforts to "influence" BBSW submissions.
"We have not come to a final conclusion about whether there is a need for us to take action to enforce the law," said Ms Armour.
But Mr Medcraft – who in June 2015 castigated the banks for attempting to frustrate ASIC's investigations into the matter – was more forthcoming.
"It’s fair to say that [the banks' cooperation] has improved dramatically. I’d still say it’s got a way to go," Mr Medcraft said.
"I’m not sure whether they realise that we’re quite serious [...] We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way," he said.
Asked by Labor Senator Sam Dastyari if the 'hard way' would mean more enforceable undertakings, Mr Medcraft was abrupt.
"No, no. [They should] plead guilty. We can either have a contested outcome in the court or we can have an agreed outcome in the court," he said.
"We have an $80 million war chest. Governments have given us this money to not be reluctant – to take action on behalf of Australians," Mr Medcraft said.
"This [Senate Economics Legislation] committee has highlighted to us that enforceable undertakings are good, but generally we should try where we can to get court outcomes. And that’s what the approach of [ASIC] has been in the last 12 months," he added.
Furthermore, the manipulation of the BBSW goes to "the heart" of what ASIC does, Mr Medcraft said.
"Markets [must be] fair, orderly and transparent. The fairness of the benchmark rate [is vital]. People should have confidence in it," he said.