Foss, CCI seek constitutional amendment

THE Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Western Australian Attorney General, Peter Foss, have renewed their call for a constitutional amendment to cover co-operative schemes between Commonwealth and state governments.

The call followed Friday’s meeting of state and Commonwealth attorneys-general in Melbourne at which the states agreed to a limited handover of their corporations powers to the Commonwealth, to remove any doubts about the constitutional validity of Corporations Law.

The handover is subject to a five-year sunset clause and also requires at east four states to agree to any future changes to corporate regulation.

The CCI says a constitutional amendment is still needed, however, to validate all state and federal cooperative arrangements and Mr Foss says he was also concerned about cross vesting.

“Business wants a national system of regulation and it also wants certainty,” said CCI executive director Lyndon Rowe.

“The decision (to handover power) provides certainty in the short-term but we won’t get long-term certainty until the constitution is amended to facilitate cooperative arrange-ments like the Corporations Law scheme.”

Friday’s decision ended a year of uncertainty for the business community following a series of High Court decisions that undermined several features of the present system of company regulation.

Under Australia’s federal system of government, law-making and judicial powers are distributed between a central government and six states.

Some powers are exercised exclusively by the Common-wealth, others by the states and some are still shared. The power to make laws in relation to companies is one of the shared powers.

To ensure a uniform system of company regulation, the states and the Commonwealth put together the Corporations Law scheme but the recent High court decisions cast doubt over its validity and other cooperative arrangements.

Mr Foss said there were “five or six” similar arrangements covering areas including censorship, sport and food labeling.

He said an amendment was also necessary to restore cross vesting, a mechanism used to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation over jurisdictional issues.

“The sunset clause (to the corporations power transfer) is so the Commonwealth can start working on an amendment because the problems apply to all cooperative arrangements and we still haven’t solved the problem of cross-vesting,” he said.

“The High Court has ruled that cross-vesting is out and various supreme courts have spoken to us (the attorneys general) about this.

“It would be a waste of millions of dollars to have to resolve jurisdictional issues on a case by case basis.”

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