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Turnbull's attack on transparency

The Turnbull Government has been working behind closed doors to privatise Australia's corporate database. But momentum is building to stop the sell off.

Watch this video from award-winning investigative journalist Michael West, then add your name to the 75,000-strong petition.

It's a move that could see journalists, academics, and advocacy groups lose access to the records they need to expose rampant tax dodging, shell companies and corporate exploitation.

Time is running out, with just one week until the tender deadline. But by working together, we can blow the lid off Turnbull's shady plot and generate enough public outrage to force a government back down.

Will you call on Parliament to keep the corporate ownership database in public hands?
The 'ASIC Registry' is a national database where corporations in Australia file their business names, histories, financial records and ownership. It is owned and operated by the corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). The database contains over ten million records of corporate financial data from over two million companies.
The database is a critical piece of transparency infrastructure, used by journalists, academics and civil society groups to scrutinise corporate financial affairs. In particular, the registry has been central to efforts to expose the shady tax dodging habits of private companies.

It is also used to identify shell companies, which facilitate many serious crimes including labour exploitation, human trafficking, money laundering, financing terrorism, commercial online child sexual abuse, illicit arms trading, fraud, embezzlement and bribery.

In addition, the registry is used by unions to help pursue wage theft claims on behalf of exploited workers, accountancy firms to pursue the assets of liquidated companies to satisfy creditors, and lawyers to pursue child support payments.

Here are some specific recent examples of the way the database has been used:

  • Investigative journalism – Former Fairfax Business Editor, Michael West, routinely uses the database to uncover corporate malpractice – including the shady tax affairs of dirty energy giant, Glencore. The jouranlists union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has written to the Turnbull Government raising their concerns and calling for the sale to not proceed.

  • Ousting corporate tax dodgers – Earlier this year, GetUp members funded a hard-hitting report that exposed Australia's biggest tax dodgers – which relied on digging through filings in the corporate database.

  • Exposing labour exploitation – The Fair Work Commission cracked down on Australia's biggest chicken supplier over exploiting foreign workers and using bogus business addresses.
The Turnbull Government closed bids on a a private company to run the corporate database on Monday 29 August 2016, although the Government has flagged they have not yet made a final decision to privatise the database. If they decide to proceed, they will announce the tender winner in October.
The privatisation of the ASIC registry constitutes a genuine threat to the ability of civil society and journalists to conduct investigations into the illicit and unethical activities of businesses.

The cost of access to relevant financial information of multinationals is already an impediment to corporate scrutiny and accountability. Australia pays some of the world's highest fees to access corporate data, and our journalists and academics routinely run out of money to purchase more financial statements to properly investigate a particular company or industry. This has clear productivity costs.

If the registry is sold, the information cost barrier is likely to become entrenched and potentially new barriers to information access might be created by the operator.

The sale will also specifically affect the successful introduction of new tax transparency laws – namely, the public register of beneficial ownership. The obvious starting point for such a register would be the existing ASIC register, so selling it off will close off options to ensure these registers are able to work together.
This is first-rate independent journalism from Michael West, former business editor at Fairfax, detailing the 'ASIC plot'.

This Guardian article outlines the concerns raised by the Tax Justice Network that selling off ASIC's trove of company data would hinder tax enforcement.

This opinion piece by Alex Malley, Chief Exective of Certified Practicing Accountants, exposes government hypocrisy over the sale.


To Prime Minister Turnbull, and the Honourable Members of the House and Senate:

Keep corporate accountability out of corporate control. We call on you to stop the sale of the ASIC corporate registry and keep corporate accountability in public hands.

81,384 signatures

We need 3,616 more

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