Case for Federal ICAC
Deceptive Conduct | Liberal Party | QED

Coalition reneges on promised register of shelf company beneficial owners

April 2016
The Turnbull government promised to create a public register revealing the identities of the beneficial owners of shell companies to crack down on multinational tax avoidance leading up to the federal election. It then reneged by claiming there was never a commitment in the first place.

In April 2016, then assistant treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer confirmed that Australia would agree to establish a public register, saying: “We agree there needs to be a registry of beneficial ownership in our country.”

“It does improve transparency. It means that the public and law enforcement agencies know who ultimately controls the company. It means it is a lot easier to expose wrongdoing or fraudulent conduct. It makes it much easier to disrupt illicit financial flows and it makes it much, much harder to engage in tax avoidance.”

In December 2018, according to The Guardian, in response to questions regarding progress on the “promise to create a public register of beneficial ownership of shell companies”, a spokesman for the assistant treasurer, Stuart Robert, said “we remain committed and we’re considering options”.

In February 2019, in response to a question on notice, the Department of Treasury said: “No commitment to implement a register has been made by government.” Instead, it referred to the Open Government National Action plan announced in December 2016 “to improve transparency of information of beneficial ownership and control of companies available to relevant authorities”. That involved a consultation period the ended in March 2017. No legislation has been drafted.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the affair was “worthy of the Ministry of Truth”.

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