Blockchain Australia says gov’t still dismissing industry as a ‘wild west’

The industry body has accused the government of leaning into narratives about malicious actors and scams, rather than engaging with the blockchain space to establish fit-for-purpose regulation.

Blockchain Australia, an association representing the local crypto industry, has warned that the country has fallen behind on the regulatory front due to the undue persistence of a dismissive “wild west” narrative.

The association has been proactive in its engagement with the state in recent months, as the government continues to review the future of blockchain and fintech and regulation in the country.

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre last week, Blockchain Australia CEO Steve Vallas said that the association strongly resists the notion that the crypto space remains “a bit of a wild west” and has been “very deliberately asking for the regulators to engage with us.” Tracing the narrative’s emergence to the 2017–18 ICO boom, Vallas accused the government of responding to the phenomenon with an overly passive “wait and see” approach:

“The landscape […] today is entirely different. We don’t see an appetite within Australia for ICOs, we don’t see the regulators comfortable allowing that to happen again, so we have a new chapter, but the narrative has persisted. […] when people don’t understand the space, the tendency is to lean in on the wild west, to lean in on nefarious and bad actors.”

Vallas’ argument was broadly echoed by Michael Acima, a partner at the Australian law firm Piper Alderman, who specializes in digital law with a focus on fintech, regtech and the blockchain and digital assets industry. Unlike Vallas, however, Acima drew a close parallel between Australia’s regulatory lag and the situation in some other jurisdictions, particularly the United States. In the latter, he claimed, in cases such as crypto exchange-related crimes, he claimed that people are “effectively reading the tea leaves of what prosecutions have occurred to try and understand.”

Related: ASX sounds crypto exchange custody warning, calls for better regulations

Following Vallas and Acima, Chloe White — managing director at Genesis Block — told the committee that the Australian government has focused its energies on the industry only intermittently and largely at times of hype. Instead of continuing to engage with the space during quiet periods, local policymakers have failed to develop “a real understanding of the space and its trajectory” and have remained “in a very reactive position where policy advice and analysis has been concerned,” she said. 

Earlier this year, Conservative Australian senator Andrew Bragg argued that Australia must introduce better regulations for crypto assets if the country aspires to “stay ahead of the game” and foster tech and financial innovation.

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