As the government does everything in its power to distract the nation, ably assisted by Hanson and her motley crew, they are quietly going about the business of protecting their donors from scrutiny.
The Abbott government announced plans in the 2015-16 budget to undertake a competitive tender process to sell off ASIC’s corporate registry to a private company.
ASIC’s corporate registry is a critical database of information on more than 2m companies in Australia, including business names, histories, financial records, and backgrounds of directors.
The Australian Council of Social Service, the Tax Justice Network, the Uniting church, and GetUp!, among other groups, have sent a joint letter to the treasurer, Scott Morrison, asking him to stop the sale of the registry.
“We are writing to seek your assurance that the Asic corporate register will not be privatised to become a private monopoly. The Asic corporate register is currently relied upon by law enforcement agencies, such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Tax Office, in identifying company ownership and location. Placing this register in private hands risks undermining a range of law enforcement activities as well as Australia’s attempts to curb money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”
Investigative journalist, Michael West, has joined with 84 other journalists to send an open letter to Malcolm Turnbull asking him to stop the sale. He sent the following email via GetUp!
I’ve been a business journalist for over 20 years. During that time, I’ve uncovered many egregious cases of corporate misconduct – from Australia’s largest coal company who paid next to no tax on billions in revenue, to the $4.5 billion siphoned offshore by Murdoch’s Newscorp.
Without the ASIC corporate database, none of this would have been possible. If the government goes ahead with its plans to sell the register, it will create a monopoly over public information. This will make it much harder for journalists like me to conduct investigations into corporate financial affairs.
That’s why I’ve been left with no choice but to speak out against this Government’s efforts to put Australia’s corporate database under corporate control.
The ASIC database contains more than ten million records on Australian businesses. It’s the best paper trail we have to track corporate financial affairs, including tax dodging, money laundering and human trafficking.
Already, the charges levied by ASIC for this supposedly public information are believed to be the highest of any country in the world, at $38 a pop. Now, this Government wants to sell the ASIC database to a private operator. What are they thinking?
How could anyone believe that delivering the nation’s corporate database into the hands of a private monopoly operator could possibly serve the public interest?
If all my years investigating corporate affairs has taught me anything, it’s that we need more corporate scrutiny, not less.
The Coalition outlined a funding cut of more than $120 million to ASIC over five years in its 2014-15 budget. This led to ASIC shedding over 230 jobs in two years. The Northern Territory now has just one ASIC staffer.
In trying to deflect Labor’s call for a Royal Commission into the banking and financial sector, Scott Morrison came up with the idea of having the banks, super funds, insurance companies and publicly listed companies cover ASIC’s budget, something the financial sector quickly agreed to.
In response to the concern that this cost would just be passed on to customers, Morrison said he “would be furious if I thought this was being sought to be passed on”.
CPA Australia chief Alex Malley warned that costs could be be passed on to consumers under the funding changes to ASIC.
“Apart from risking the wrath of the Treasurer, there is no rock-solid guarantee that the banks will not pass these costs on to customers by way of higher account fees and charges,” he said.
Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Steven Munchenberg conceded that the costs could be passed on, but said the extra impost, “while significant for ASIC … I don’t think it makes a terrible difference”.
ASIC warned the Turnbull government its plan to introduce a “public register of beneficial ownership” – which will reveal the identities of the beneficial owners of shell companies in an effort to stamp out tax avoidance by multinational companies – will be undermined by the registry sale.
“The obvious starting point for a register of beneficial ownership would be the existing Asic corporate register, so selling off the register into private hands closes off important options in the consideration of a register of beneficial ownership.
There are already problems with Asic not having the resources to ensure the accuracy of the database, as the Fair Work Ombudsman has encountered labour hire companies on the register that are registered at false addresses with front people as directors.
It is difficult to believe that a private owner of the database will be able to put in the same level of resources as Asic to ensure the accuracy of the database, making it even easier for criminals to register businesses with front people as directors and registered at false addresses.”
So as we express our outrage over political donations, discrimination against gays, climate change denial, inequality, attacks on welfare, cuts to health and education, and the resurgence of Hansonism, the real agenda carries on largely unnoticed.
Less scrutiny, less tax, less regulation, lower wages, unions taken care of – no wonder business confidence is rising.
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