Australia embarks on crypto stock-taking ahead of sector regulation

Representations of cryptocurrencies in this illustration taken January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

SYDNEY, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Australia said on Monday it would do a virtual stocktake of the country's cryptocurrency holdings, the first signal from the new centre-left government that it plans to regulate the $1 trillion sector.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said that his department would undertake "token mapping", or cataloging the types and uses of digital currency owned within the country, as a first step to identifying which cryptocurrency assets to regulate, and how.

Australia would be the first country in the world to conduct such an exercise, he added in a statement.

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"With the increasingly widespread proliferation of crypto assets, to the extent that crypto advertisements can be seen plastered all over big sporting events, we need to make sure customers engaging with crypto are adequately informed and protected," Chalmers said.

Australia has wrestled for years with the question of how to regulate cryptocurrency - money that is regulated by decentralised computer networks, rather than central banks.

Calls for intervention have increased since 2020 when COVID-19 stimulus payments and home working prompted a surge in the sector's popularity.

Last year, a Senate inquiry under the previous conservative government recommended wide-ranging regulations to protect cryptocurrency owners, but that administration lost an election this May before any new laws were put in place. read more

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has also said it wants the sector regulated, citing its research that found 44% of retail investors held cryptocurrency in late 2021. read more

Chalmers, the treasurer, did not specify any planned regulations on Monday, but said the token mapping exercise would be "the first step in a reform agenda".

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Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jamie Freed

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