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Danger – COVID-19 Safe Harbour STILL Requires Early External Administrator Appointment

The Government has recently extended COVID-19 business protection measures introduced in March, including the temporary safe harbour protection from director liability for insolvent trading. These protections will now expire on 31 December 2020. However the Government has not corrected a critical timing issue which exists in the COVD-19 safe harbour legislation. This means directors must appoint an external administrator to their company on or before 31 December 2020, if they wish to take advantage of the COVID-19 safe harbour protection from insolvent trading.

In March Parliament passed a raft of legislative reforms in an attempt to provide protections for businesses an ameliorate the economic effects of the coronavirus in Australia. One of these amendments was temporary legislation to protect directors from liability for insolvent trading during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This temporary protection is found in section 588GAAA of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). This safe harbour protection from insolvent trading will mean that directors will not be personally liable for debts incurred in the ‘ordinary course of business’, provided those debts were incurred during the operation of the temporary legislation, presently which will now expire at the end of 31 December 2020.
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Insolvency Relief Extended until New Years!

By Hayley Hitch, an Associate of Matthews Folbigg Lawyers in our Insolvency, Restructuring and Debt Recovery Group


The Morrison Government earlier this year introduced the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 (Cth) which came into effect on 25 March 2020 to provide relief to individuals and entities under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) and supporting legislation. These changes were due to expire on 25 September 2020, where the legislation was expected to revert back to its former position where, for example, statutory demands and bankruptcy notices required a 21 day response period.

You may recall our earlier blog which goes into some detail about these changes, this may be viewed here.

The Morrison Government has however today extended the operation of the relief provided (and described above) until 31 December 2020. This means that:

  1. Any statutory demands issued under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) on or before 31 December 2020 will need to provide the debtor with a period of 6 months to respond and be for at least $20,000;
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Danger – COVID-19 Safe Harbour Flaw Requires URGENT External Administrator Appointment

A fatal flaw exists in the government’s COVD-19 safe harbour legislation. This means directors must appoint an external administrator to their company on or before 24 September 2020, if they wish to take advantage of the COVID-19 safe harbour protection from insolvent trading.

At the beginning of the global pandemic the Australian Federal Government introduced temporary legislation to protect directors from liability for insolvent trading during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This safe harbour protection from insolvent trading will excuse directors for liabilty in respect of debts incurred in the ‘ordinary course of business’ during the operation of the temporary legislation, presently due to expire at the end of 24 September 2020.

However, for reasons which are not clear, but possible linked to the urgency with which the legislation was passed, the drafters included an additional fundamental and crucial requirement to gain the benefit of this COVID-19 safe harbour protection from insolvnt trading. That requirement is that in order to gain this COVID-19 safe harbour protection, an external administrator (either a voluntary administrator or a liquidator), must have been appointed before the legislation expires at the end of 24 September 2020.
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