ASIC chair James Shipton (centre) with commissioners Cathie Armour (left) and Sean Hughes

ASIC chair James Shipton has defended his decision to return to the top job temporarily after the expenses scandal that saw him announce his resignation.

Sitting in front of the Standing Committee of Economics with the regulator’s executive team to face questions about its 2020 annual report, Shipton was asked by ALP senator Andrew Leigh why he came back as ASIC chair in a temporary capacity at the same time as announcing his resignation.

“I understand why that was in your interests because you felt that your name had been cleared and returning to the top job gave that public perception, but was that decision really in ASIC’s interests?” posed the senator, who also chaired the committee.

“I feel very committed and dedicated to work as long as I can in this organisation with the fine men and women who make it up,” Shipton replied. “I have a contribution to make.”

At the last Senate Economics Committee hearing he attended, in October, Shipton abruptly announced that he would be stepping down while an investigation into ASIC covering his $118,000 tax advice bill was completed. The scandal also saw ASIC deputy chair Daniel Crennan resign after receiving $69,000 for accommodation payments.

The subsequent Thom review — delivered to treasury secretary Steven Kennedy in December — cleared both of any wrongdoing, but did highlight governance, risk, resources and management issues at the regulator. Both men have since repaid the money.

In February treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced that Shipton was resigning, but would remain to steer the regulator for three months while a replacement was canvassed.

“I made a decision in conjunction with the treasurer to step aside in the coming months as a new chair is announced and brought on board,” Shipton told the committee this morning. “I’m very comfortable that this is definitely in the best interests of the organisation.”

Pressed specifically by Leigh on why his return to the role was in ASIC’s best interests, Shipton he believed “very strongly” that he could contribute to the ongoing governance and decision making processes.

“I can contribute to the regulatory messages that we continue to impart, including conversations that we’ve had today. I can aid and assist with the transition to a new chair. It’s a matter in many respects, Dr Leigh, [of] more hands on deck the better. There’s a tremendous amount to do.”


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