ASIC Plot: Corporate Database Close to Sale

by | Aug 16, 2016 | Business, Government

Flogging the nation’s company database to a monopoly private operator must be one of the zanier ideas to have been hatched in Canberra but that is precisely what is now being plotted by our elected representatives.

The plan is well advanced. Treasury is moving to the final stage of the tender process to privatise the database of the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC). “Final bids are to be evaluated in September,” a source told “There are a small number of indicative bidders now”.

Already, the charges levied by ASIC for this supposedly public information are believed to be the highest of any country in the world. This question has been put to the corporate regulator and there has been no response.

What we are talking about here is annual revenue of more than $700 million in company lodgement fees and $60 million in revenue from company searches.

In many countries such as the UK and New Zealand, this public information is free. In Australia, however, a stakeholder – be that stakeholder a company employee, a local community, a creditor, the media, a non-government organisation or a university – may have to pay hundreds of dollars to find out about their company’s state of affairs. For a set of financial statements the charge is $38.

A case of onerous costs in point: when this writer was researching the affairs of coal mining giant Glencore, it took days and hundreds of dollars in search fees to establish

Glencore’s tax position remains unclear

that Glencore Operations Australia Pty Ltd was controlled by Glencore Queensland Pty Ltd, which was in turn owned by Glencore Investment Holdings Australia Ltd, in turn owned by Glencore Investment Ltd and in turn owned by the enigmatically named GHP 104 160 689 Pty Ltd. The latter, which sits at the top of Glencore’s labyrinthine corporate structure in Australia, was owned by company domiciled in Bermuda.

Over the past three months we have endeavoured to get access to this supposedly public information about multinational companies. The question we have now posed to no less than four government agencies and ministries is: how can this information be regarded as “public” if the public cannot afford to gain access to it?

We began by asking ASIC for access in May. ASIC referred us to the Department of Finance. The Department of Finance referred us back to ASIC which then referred us to Treasury which then referred us to the Minister for Financial Services.

We are now awaiting a response from the Minister for Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer.

What can the government possibly hope to achieve by selling this $60 million of annual revenue it gets from company searches? Is it merely to get a one-off payment – perhaps even from a foreign multinational company – which will help repair the budget? This is $60 million which will need to be replaced somehow year after year. It is $60 million it should not be getting anyway as access to public information is what oils the wheels of democracy. It should be free. The public owns this information and indeed, in funding ASIC, has already paid for it.

How could anyone believe that, by delivering this information into the hands of a private monopoly, the public interest could possibly be served? Surely a private operator could not be expected to charge less than is presently charged.



Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


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    It’s just bloody weird is what it is. Zero public interest. Someone, somewhere wants to own it, and someone in power owes them a favour?

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    Let’s not also forget late payment penalties or late notification fees imposed by ASIC. Currently, companies are required to pay an annual fee of $249. The fee is due within 2 months of the issue of the annual company statement. However, if the payment is late even by one minute (once the clock ticks over midnight of due date), then a late payment penalty of $76 is imposed. If this payment is another month late, then this $76 penalty increases to $316. Any changes to company details are required to be notified to ASIC within 28 days. Again, if notification is late, then penalties are imposed. ASIC is unforgiving. One almost has to be on death’s door to be granted a remission of penalties. Over the years, I have contacted ASIC on behalf of clients who have made a payment on one invoice only to receive a invoice with penalty issued on the same date. ASIC will not budge. No one seems to be able to make an executive decision to look at individual cases. So apart from the millions collected in annual fees and search fees, ASIC must also collect millions in late payment penalties.
    If the government can collect almost $1 billion annually in fees for doing absolutely nothing, then it does not make any sense whatsoever in selling this database service to a private operator. Something stinks.

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      it is simply privatising public money to benefit a few MP’s after they lose their seat and ‘get’ a job with the private operator they bestowed this favour upon.

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    Accessability to public information makes those the information is about more accountable/trackable. The freer the access the more accountable/trackable the subject becomes.
    Who would ever have thought the LNP, the coalition of the BIG business willing, would stoop to making BIG business less accountable and less transparent. There must be a mistake. And at the same time as they’re making the citizenry’s census data more transparent and trackable.
    BTW, logic tells you that the compulsory requirement to add name and address data to census returns was government initiated. ABS staff giving non-committal responses to ‘who initiated’ questions combined with government representatives giving non-committal responses means it must be the government. If it had been the ABS who initiated, the government reps would have been laying blame and dumping responsibility on the ABS like there’s no tomorrow. But all that happened was a game of obfuscation, no doubt commanded by the government.
    Gosh, who would ever have thought it would come to this.
    But of course, we can trust that sensitive government information like a citizen’s name, address and other relevant info will never fall into the hands of a private organisation, well, not unless it’s actually sold to them to manage, like ASICs data.

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    what the hell does this government think its doing one thing that is out of the question is multinationals cannot be trusted to govern themselves let alone an investigating body for the last time mr turnbull stop trying to get these corrupt corporations in the back door they will manipulate the corporate sector and if you dare sell this off we will go to an election this is an utter disgrace and we will remove you and your rotten government from office

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    The answer is to make it too expensive and difficult to do searches such as the one doen the the Author on Glencorp.
    The Libs like to allow companies to operate in obscurity.

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    The sell-off is not simply for the money – it is to protect the miscreants, which include Turnbull himself, and all other politicians, along with their bureaucrats. Politics is itself organised crime. Why should anybody be surprised that criminals such as Turnbull take measures to hide their crimes? And what is this ‘democracy’ drivel? All this corruption is occurring within ‘democracy’. So much for democracy. All ocracies, ologies and isms are just lies and deceit by other names. The truly astonishing thing is that the population at large does not understand that their ‘elected’ leaders are professional con-men. Most people think that voting means something – it doesn’t. At election time off they run eagerly to the ballot box to submit a useless and thoughtless blot on a piece of paper.

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    This article ended up in the New Daily today which is why it isn’t news any more.
    Michael, I’m sorry you had to pay so much to expose the Glencore is structure. It’s the same with many other foreign-owned post-nominally Pty Ltd. Australia has always been controlled and directed by foreign interests.We are reminded of this monthly through the national current account deficits, hence the ballooning astronomical foreign debt figure. The only difference is now the controlling foreign interests, especially in property and agriculture, are increasingly oriental (faux socialist) as the USA wanes in significance.
    Publicly listed companies are a lot easier to track on a daily basis. Most of the industry super funds are invested in the ASX-traded large companies, which seems to be a quasi-socialist arrangement but… Ethics and due diligence has to be exercised by investors and consumers. Pity the employees!

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    I wonder what the ACCC makes of all this?

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    While the ATO have been pushing Standard Business Reporting in order to achieve some degree of business reporting normalisation, ASIC have failed to fully adopt SBR as was originally intended. It seems probable that ASIC have been preparing for this sale for some time hence their reluctance to standardise their datasets to the SBR taxonomies.

    While every major global reporting jurisdiction adopts XBRL (SBR technology), ASIC continues to accept .PDF financial reports, increasing the comparative cost of analysis.

    Once the sale process stalls and then fails, heads need to roll.

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