THE DISTILLERY: Watchdog warnings

Jotters take heed of cautions from ASIC's departing deputy chair, and one ponders the supermarket giants' regulatory fate.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission deputy chairman Belinda Gibson will end her stint at the regulator today. Two of Australia's leading commentators sit down with the former Mallesons Stephen Jacques partner to reflect on the circumstances with which she joined ASIC and her lingering regulatory concerns as she leaves it. Also in Friday's shooter from The Distillery, another business scribe looks ahead to an important deadline for a voluntary code of conduct for the big supermarkets. If it doesn't go ahead, conduct might not be so voluntary.

But first, The Australian Financial Review's Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd recalls that when Gibson first joined ASIC as a commissioner her first official meeting was with former treasurer Peter Costello.

"It went for about an hour and covered all the current issues of importance, including the need for ASIC to beef up its monitoring and supervision of financial markets. Costello, who was across all the tough issues, had charged then chairman Tony D’Aloisio with lifting ASIC’s game. It was out of touch with the brokers, investment banks and institutions it was meant to be regulating. That weakness in its operations was partly because equities supervision was handled by the Australian Securities Exchange, but mostly because it had dropped the ball."

Supervision has since been moved to ASIC. Meanwhile, The Australian's John Durie has the scoop on what Gibson is worried about as she prepares for her final day at the corporate regulator.

"Outgoing ASIC deputy chairman Belinda Gibson has two key worries about the market: that the 'desperate search for yield' will end up in dark places and social media has taken 'so-called rumourtrage' to private communities in a way that 'will lead to outright theft'. Gibson expressed her concerns in an interview on the eve of her last day as deputy corporate plod after five-and-a-half years as a regulator. Having joined ASIC in the middle of the crash she is now watching some of the old danger signs reappear, such as the blind search for yield. Investment banking conduct has, however, improved, she says, adding that when there are issues they are quickly settled in a private conversation."

Elsewhere, Fairfax's Adele Ferguson reports that Woolworths is due to hold its final meeting with the Australian Food and Grocery Council over a voluntary code of conduct for the supermarkets on Monday after months of negotiations. They're late.

"An agreement was expected by Easter and with less than five weeks of sitting left in parliament; the speculation is that an agreement must be reached in the next two or three weeks – or a mandatory code could be imposed on them. If neither is done, the fate of the retail giants will be left to the government elected in September. It is a high-wire act as the Coalition has committed to a root-and-branch review of the competition legislation with particular reference to grocery retail and banks in its first 100 days. In addition, Barnaby Joyce is still pursuing his divestiture powers bill."

Meanwhile, Fairfax's Malcolm Maiden reports on his trip to Rio Tinto's Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia's Kimberley. The trip comes amid Rio Tinto's efforts to get out of the diamond industry and focus on other commodities.

Fairfax's Elizabeth Knight urges her readers to keep an eye on Kerry Stokes' latest recruit for Seven West Media – James Packer's former right-hand man John Alexander.

The Australian's economics correspondent Adam Creighton says his newspaper has identified 14 measures that could save the budget $13 billion in annual savings – and Labor could do it all before hiking taxes. Thing is, they're not.

Meanwhile, The Australian Financial Review's Matthew Stevens notes Alcoa's public announcement that it's thinking about a second wave of smelter closures that will focus on high cost assets is bad news for Geelong.

And finally, The Australian Financial Review's Jamie Freed says the reason why Poseidon Nickel thinks it can through the low market prices, high labour costs and high Australian dollar and secure $197 million for construction costs at its proposed Windarra project can be summed up with one word – Twiggy.

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