THE Australian Securities and Investments Commission has deleted more than 100 documents from its public database relating to exemptions it had issued to public companies.
ASIC responded to BusinessDay questions about the purge of public information by claiming ”technical oversight”, even though some documents had been sitting on its website for more than 10 years.
”The instruments do not need to be gazetted or posted to an external website,” a statement from ASIC said. ”However, there was a technical error that made these available through ASIC’s publicly accessible registers (on payment of the appropriate fee). When this error was detected, consistent with [Section 340], access to the instruments was stopped.”
The deleted documents are exemptions from financial reporting, given to administrators running collapsed companies.
The documents were purged about the beginning of this year, coinciding with the start of a Senate inquiry into the insolvency industry and the ”involvement and activities of ASIC” before and after the collapse of a company.
Jeffrey Knapp, a lecturer in financial accounting at the Australian School of Business at the University of NSW, said removing the information was an ”extraordinary thing for ASIC to do when its governing legislation includes the object of making information publicly available”.
According to Mr Knapp’s records, ASIC removed at least 113 Section 340 orders for listed public companies from its website late last year or early this year.
The Senate inquiry into liquidators and administrators first called for submissions in November and remains open.
Among the documents available for years on the ASIC website were nine exemptions for John Elliott’s Waterwheel Holdings Limited, 11 for Golden West Refining and exemptions for a swag of other collapsed companies such as National Textiles and Croesus Mining.
Mr Knapp said: “ASIC’s decision to delete a significant number of documents from the public data base was executed without any public consultation, explanation or announcement, and ASIC may not have even considered the public interest before removing these hitherto publicly available documents.
“I am unable to conceive of any valid grounds, bases or reasons
for ASIC manipulating their public data base.”
For ASIC to do so when the Senate inquiry ”might potentially include ASIC’s role in issuing financial reporting exemptions is unfortunate to say the least.”