Five years ago, in 2011, the World Bank and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in their report ‘Puppet Masters’ revealed shell companies with hidden ownership were used by tax cheats and those involved in fraud, embezzlement and stealing public money from governments around the world. But most governments, including our own, failed to take the necessary action to rid society of these methods. Research by Griffith University found that Australia is one of the easiest places in the world to set up a shell company with secret ownership.
The petition calls on the Senate to block the Turnbull Government’s plans to sell off the current publicly owned company registry. If the registry was sold into corporate hands it will be even easier for shell companies with hidden ownership to be registered in Australia. It asks that the registry instead require companies to publicly disclose who really owns and controls them. This measure is needed globally and our government can help lead the way. The UK is already in the process of implementing a public registry of real company owners.
As exposed by the ABC Four Corners program on the Panama Papers, some Australian residents sell themselves to act as front people for dozens of companies at a time. This needs to be made illegal, so people living in Australia cannot help tax cheats and other wrong-doers.
The petition calls for lawyers, accountants and corporate service providers (the companies that set up companies) to be brought under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006. As pointed out by law Professor Louis De Koker from Deakin University, if Mossack Fonseca were operating in Australia, it would be subject to even fewer legal controls over establishing shell companies with hidden ownership than they face in Panama.