Complexity questioned: laws regulating corporations and financial services under review

By Melissa Coade

Thursday December 2, 2021

man standing in the middle of a complex maze
The ALRC’s says laws are ‘uniquely and unnecessarily complex’. (jamesteohart/Adobe)

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) review into the complexity of federal laws for corporations and financial services tabled an interim report in parliament this week, with a finding that the legislation is ‘uniquely and unnecessarily complex’. 

The report, which includes innovative research into the extent and nature of complexity in legislation, uses empirical data and computational analysis to ‘demonstrate the ballooning volume of law’. 

Commission president Justice Sarah Derrington said the focus of the three-year review was to ensure that the laws were ‘fit for purpose’.

“The law must facilitate industry, recognising the dynamic nature of the financial services sector and its significant contribution to the Australian economy,” Justice Derrington said.

“At the same time, consumers need to be able to understand and navigate the law to protect their legal entitlements.”

The ALRC made 16 proposals and posed questions for possible reform in the report, and also included a draft model for how laws can be designed to make it easier for practitioners to find relevant statutory requirements and exceptions.

The inquiry is part of a 2019 government response to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry

This is the first ALRC interim report produced from the review, which will include similar reports in September next year (focusing on regulatory design and the hierarchy of primary law provisions, regulations, class orders, and standards), August (focusing on potential reframing or restructuring of Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act) and November (final consolidated report) 2023.

Under the inquiry terms of reference, the commission has been charged with a technical review that aims to promote a ‘more adaptive, efficient, and navigable framework of legislation within the context of existing policy settings’. 

The ALRC has not been tasked with recommending policy changes regarding the content of obligations on financial service providers and its work will complement the ongoing work of the Department of Treasury in seeking to simplify relevant legislation.

“The ultimate goal is to achieve meaningful compliance with the substance and intent of the law,” an explainer on the commission website reads.

The commission is accepting submissions about its 16 proposals and 8 questions for reform; submissions will be accepted until 25 February next year.


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