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Hard on the heels of a Royal Commission that found widespread misconduct in Australia’s financial sector, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) says it will soon have power to pursue criminal cases and seek tougher civil penalties against industry executives.

The ASIC announced that its enforcement capabilities will be beefed up following the passage of legislation that will, among other things, enable it to apply civil penalties to a wider range of misconduct, increase maximum prison sentences for white-collar crime and significantly boost limits on civil penalties.

“The passing of the penalties bill is a significant step for ASIC’s enforcement regime,” said Daniel Crennan, deputy chair of the ASIC. “The legislation is the culmination of ASIC’s recommendations to government to increase penalties and provides the legislative reform to ensure breaches of the law are appropriately punished.”

Without the bill, the law lacked sufficient penalties to properly punish corporate wrongdoers, he said. “In part, the core obligations owed by banks and other financial services licensees to the citizens of Australia did not carry any penalties,” he said. “ASIC will now be in a stronger position to pursue harsh civil penalties and criminal sanctions against those who have breached the corporate laws of Australia.”

The move to increase the ASIC’s enforcement powers follows a task force review that made a series of recommendations for enhancing the regulator’s ability to prevent harm in the financial sector. Earlier this month, a Royal Commission issued a report detailing misconduct in the Australian financial sector, calling for sweeping reforms, including measures to enhance the effectiveness of industry regulators.