The departure of Daniel Crennan highlights two problems for ASIC – both of its own making.
Mr Crennan’s quick exit from ASIC’s upper echelons in the wake of a remuneration scandal should come as no surprise. When accused of the potential misuse of taxpayer funds at a financial regulator, the only right and proper thing to do is fall on your sword. The real shock is that Mr Crennan’s departure was only brought forward by a matter of months.
In a statement tabled by senator Mathias Cormann, Mr Crennan revealed that he had been intending to retire from his role in 2021 – a scant three years after taking up the position, which was announced as a five-year appointment. In an organisation like ASIC, three years is somewhere between the length of a heartbeat and the blink of an eye – especially when you’ve been brought onboard to savage some of the royal commission’s worst offenders in cases that can stretch out for years.
The question that arises from this is: why was Mr Crennan so keen to leave? It’s no secret that ASIC’s senior staff have been butting heads, with at least one executive stepping down after a scant two months in the role. The organisation was also exceedingly bureaucratic despite its aggressive “why not litigate?” stance.
Add on the devastating loss of the “wagyu and shiraz” responsible lending case, and despite the high likelihood that Treasury’s investigation would clear him – Mr Crennan was assured that the rental payments were “consistent with ASIC policy” – the star barrister appears to have decided that enough was enough and left the ineffectual regulator in search of bigger and better opportunities.
ASIC’s inability to retain key staff like Mr Crennan is a serious indictment of the organisation, and his departure could well leave it up the creek. Shortly before COVID-19 radically altered ASIC’s regulatory priorities, the regulator was pursuing 20 cases related to the royal commission. Some of those – including one that saw NAB slapped with a $50 million fine following bad behaviour by MLC and its trustee Nulis – have been resolved. Others haven’t. Mr Crennan himself noted that ASIC was investigating a number of issues at the beleaguered AMP that have yet to be revealed despite promises of a litigation blitz toward the end of 2020.
The regulator’s ability to prosecute these cases is now deeply lacking, and Mr Crennan’s eventual replacement will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to fulfil their predecessor’s mandate. And given the high probability that Mr Shipton will also soon head for the exit, Australia’s corporate cop could be dead in the water.