Competitiveness needs big push, says ASX chief

The stock exchange chief says Australia has been mired in introspection over the past three years, and needs to focus on boosting its global competitiveness as the resources boom wanes.

The stock exchange chief says Australia has been mired in introspection over the past three years, and needs to focus on boosting its global competitiveness as the resources boom wanes.

The ASX chief executive and managing director, Elmer Funke Kupper, called for a "mix of experience" to be involved in the Abbott government's financial services inquiry, recommending people who have worked in highly regulated industries that have experienced significant change, such as energy, telecoms and infrastructure.

"You probably want to have a few people on there who have dealt with the big structural questions, industry reform," Mr Funke Kupper said of the looming inquiry, tipped to be headed by former Commonwealth Bank boss David Murray.

"You want people who say, 'You know what? We dealt with those questions in the last 15 years. Here's the mistakes we've made, here's the things we got right, here's how we compete globally'.

"When you think about boards of directors, of companies - you bring together a range of experiences ... why wouldn't an inquiry do the same thing?"

In a speech to the Australian British Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne, Mr Funke Kupper said the inquiry must look at whether Australia's financial system can withstand another shock, and the value it provides to customers.

He told reporters the exchange did not have a "particular ambition" to merge with another bourse, after the federal government stopped an $8 billion merger proposal for the ASX from the Singapore Exchange in 2011 on national interest grounds.

"We don't have any pressures, and nor do we have plans," Mr Funke Kupper said.

"What I'm highlighting, of course, is that the world around us is consolidating, but it's really right now a North American and European phenomenon, because the pressure's there to create scale."

The ASX was rocked recently by the resignation of two directors whose US-based hedge fund became caught up in a share-trading scandal. Mr Funke Kupper said the ASX was making progress on replacing Russell Aboud and Shane Finemore, whose hedge fund Manikay Partners was fined $US2.6 million ($2.75 million) by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

He expressed confidence in the regulation of dark-pool and high-frequency trading in Australian markets, which each account for about 25 per cent of turnover. Dark pools are anonymous trades conducted off public markets; fast traders trade throughout the day but do not hold stock at the end of it.

"It's been a real challenge around the world," he said. "I'm a tremendous fan of the work that ASIC [Australian Securities and Investments Commission] has done in this space."

A report earlier this year found that public concerns over high-frequency trading were "overstated" and rejected claims that it exacerbated market instability.

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