Sunday, 28 August 2016

Turnbull Government to sell off public access to Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) corporate database

Access to the national database containing the corporate history of all companies, trusts and business names registered in this country to be controlled by an Australian or foreign-owned company – what could possibly go wrong?

GetUp! Petition here

The Guardian, 18 August 2016:

More than 20 civil society organisations and unions have made a last-minute call for the Turnbull government to stop the sale of the Asic’s corporate registry to a private company.
The Panama Papers scandal demonstrated that governments need to take action against shell companies with concealed ownership, they argue, and the corporate watchdog’s registry of business data must remain in government hands to help in that fight.
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,” says the letter, seen by Guardian Australia.
“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.”
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.
It can be used by the public to search millions of companies – and their documents – not listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Only about 2,000 companies are listed on the ASX.
The Abbott government announced plans in the 2015-16 budget to undertake a competitive tender process for the registry business, believing it would be better run in private hands.
The government says it will retain ownership of the data once the registry is sold, but software upgrades of the register will be undertaken by its private owner.
The sale is supported by Greg Medcraft, the Asic chairman.
But the group warns 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,” the letter says.
“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.”
Morrison could not be contacted for comment. Final bids for the tender process are due by 29 August.

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