All in the (Wilson) family: the not-so-frank inquiry
November 2018 – February 2019
In the lead-up to the 2019 election, Tim Wilson chaired an inquiry into Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits. His relative Geoff Wilson, founder of Wilson Asset Management, was heard boasting about using the taxpayer-funded inquiry to maximise the chances of defeating the policy. Tim Wilson had a private website for the inquiry that was badged as official but which solicited submissions and attendees at public hearings from just one perspective.
Tim Wilson, as head of the House of Representatives economics committee, chaired an inquiry into Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits. Labor accused Wilson of using the inquiry to lead a partisan campaign against the policy.
Wilson is also an investor and shareholder of Wilson Asset Management, founded and chaired by his relative Geoff Wilson (the MP’s great grandfather is the fund manager’s grandfather). The company has $3 billion in funds under management and was very vocal in its opposition to Labor’s policy to change franking credits.
In an audio recording obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Geoff was heard boasting about using the taxpayer-funded inquiry to maximise the chances of defeating the policy. Geoff claims he contacted Tim to ask for the parliamentary hearings to be scheduled at the same time as one of his six-monthly investor Franking Credit Roadshows. “Then we could do a little protest, we could have our placards and we could walk down there.” One of Wilson Asset Management’s roadshows coincided with a hearing of the parliamentary inquiry in Sydney on November 20.
Tim Wilson disclosed his shareholding in the parliamentary register but did not declare it during public hearings. This is in contrast to Liberal MP David Coleman, who regularly declared his interests in a financial services firm during a recent banking inquiry.
Much of the controversy revolved around the website Stoptheretirementtax.com that Tim had authorised and promoted that initially required people who wanted to register to attend public hearings for the inquiry to agree to put their name to a petition against the policy. Wilson described this as a “mistake” that was fixed.
As Andre Oboler, a La Trobe University senior lecturer, explained, the website was registered anonymously on October 31. Tim Wilson tweeted about the website a number of times encouraging people to use the site to register for hearings. The bottom of the site has the Australian coat of arms with the words “Chair of the House Economics Committee”. Wilson’s parliamentary contact details appear alongside a statement that reads: Authorised by Tim Wilson MP, Chair of the Standing Committee on Economics.
Following a complaint by Labor, the Speaker found that no contempt of parliament had occurred but that Wilson had a private website for the inquiry that was badged as official but which solicited submissions and attendees at public hearings from just one perspective.