Fight rages to close big business loophole

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Senators have piled pressure on the Morrison government to shut a loophole allowing rich list companies to shirk reporting requirements.

Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick is fighting to scrap a 25-year-old rule allowing more than 1000 companies to avoid lodging accounts with the corporate watchdog.

The Senate voted on Wednesday for the second time this week to attach the move to tax-related legislation.

The government knocked the first attempt on the head in the lower house, where the coalition controls the numbers.

But it now faces another bill that ends the corporate reporting loophole.

Senator Patrick said the regime created two classes of companies.

“We can’t have situation where we have elite, wealthy businesses or business owners simply not having to lodge annual reports,” he told parliament.

Last month, ASIC released a list of 1119 companies still exempt from reporting requirements.

The firms were linked to some of Australia’s most rich and powerful people including Anthony Pratt, Kerry Stokes and Bruce Gordon.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said there had been a long-running push to shut the loophole.

“The fact this anomaly sits there and has not been tackled by this chamber stands out like Chopper Read at a Country Women’s Association morning tea,” he said.

Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie said more than 1000 of the companies exempted since 1995 had donated a collective $20 million to the Liberal Party.

She said Pratt Holdings had given over $5 million to the Liberals.

Senator Lambie called on the government to rule out a link between political donations and keeping the regime in place.

Liberal frontbencher Zed Seselja rejected any connection.

He said the government was still working through a report recommending an end to the loophole.

“We are committed to corporate transparency, but we don’t believe rushing this amendment through prior to the response to the report would be the appropriate way to do it,” Senator Seselja said.

“Particularly on a bill that deals with separate issues.”

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said the government claimed they didn’t want to rush acting on the issue five years after a report told them to act.

“The private companies on this list – many on which are owned by Australia’s richest and most powerful individuals – are benefiting from an unfair and out of date grandfathering regime,” she said.

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