After five week of election campaigning, it may be that voters have become fatigued by the relentless grind of news and discussion, having heard a great deal about the choices they face on national security and on the economy.
So it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are still fundamental differences between the Coalition and Labor. The Liberal Party supports the individual, their ability to make their own decisions, to be treated fairly, and to engage in private enterprise.
By contrast, members of the ALP pledge support for “the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange”. Disagreements between MPs are only permissible behind closed doors. Crossing the floor of parliament leads to expulsion.
This is why the Coalition has a policy for cryptocurrency or digital assets, and the ALP does not. Digital assets embed the rights of ownership on blockchain. This has the potential to create a market which is transparent, trustless and decentralised.
While digital assets have been most readily associated with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, blockchain has the potential to disrupt core institutions of the modern economy – banks, currencies, securities, and corporations.
As a nation of oligopolies, this new technology poses heavy risks and opportunities for Australia. The main risk is that major Australian businesses will be disrupted and disappear with their jobs. The main opportunity is the development of new choices, lower prices and new jobs.
The problem I encountered when chairing an inquiry into fintech last parliament was that digital assets are largely unregulated.
Everyone was operating under rules which were unclear, ineffective, and burdensome. There was no policy. We faced an exodus of investment and talent to nations which had better developed and clearer policy like Singapore, the UK and the USA.
In April, I established a new Senate inquiry which was squarely directed at creating a clear, certain, and comprehensive framework for digital assets.
In the process, we received and reviewed 88 submissions, heard testimony from 71 witnesses across three hearing days, and tabled a final report with 12 recommendations.
Two months after the report was tabled, Josh Frydenberg announced that the government agreed or noted 11 of the 12 recommendations and committed to a formal implementation timetable. The Treasurer moved faster than Joe Biden on digital assets. He showed again that he has what it takes, through foresight and good judgment.
The government has put forward a bold and comprehensive agenda.
Formal consultation is currently underway regarding a licensing system for digital markets, a custody regime with minimum standards, Corporations Act recognition for blockchain-governed corporations, the application of tax laws to digital assets, and a cross-government scheme defining digital tokens.
By contrast, we have heard nothing from Labor beyond tired and hollow anti-market populism.
Stephen Jones, the party’s financial services spokesman, claims that the Coalition has turned Australia into a “scammers paradise” citing losses to crypto scams. Cryptocurrencies constitutes a “massive loophole for money laundering” and “the government is encouraging Australians to swim outside the flags … they’re liable for an accidents that occurs as a result”. Jones has said that this will “inevitably” lead to “more regulation”.
While Jones has been focusing on “more regulation:, we have been focusing on good regulation. We are seeking to level the playing field and provide basic standards while allowing for flexibility, inventiveness, and experimentation. We believe in regulation but we also trust individuals to make their own decisions.
When I saw a problem – the lack of a clear framework for digital assets – I was able to take the initiative and propose a solution. The Senate committee system is one of the most important levers in our democracy as it can develop new and disruptive policies.
Sadly, the ALP see it as a challenge to their centralised control of the caucus.
When the Senate committee tabled its report into digital assets, we set out our proposals over 144 pages. By contrast, Labor senators provided a single page and just 300 words of surface-level observations.
The regulation of digital assets is an existential question for policymakers – one which challenges the foundations of the market economy. Policymakers all over the world are grappling with this issue.
The US congress may soon pass legislation establishing a framework for digital assets. Singapore, Canada, and the European Union are all at varying stages of rising to this challenge.
Australia is now in a position to lead. But it needs a government willing to seize the initiative and take on new ideas. The Coalition has put forward this agenda because it sees openness – to new ideas, to debates, to disruption, as an opportunity. Labor, by contrast, views openness as a threat.
Perhaps this explains why they have nothing to say about a once-in-a-century economic transformation. When it comes to this next iteration of the market economy, Australia can either be a leader or a laggard.
Andrew Bragg is a Liberal senator and chaired a Senate committee on Australia as a technology and financial centre