As the Federal Court mulls over the extent of the financial penalty for Visy and Dick Pratt for their part in the great cardboard carton cartel, consider this press release from another regulator, ASIC, today:

Mr Robert Norman Dale, 50, of the Gold Coast, yesterday appeared in the Southport Magistrates Court charged with eight counts of fraud. The charges follow an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

ASIC alleges that between July and November 2004, Mr Dale dishonestly gained a benefit for Water at Wooyung Pty Ltd by inducing various investors to pay $2 million to acquire units in the Water at Wooyung Unit Trust. At the time, Mr Dale was the director of Water at Wooyung Pty Ltd, which was the corporate trustee of the Water at Wooyung Unit Trust.

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ASIC alleges that those who invested in the development never received the units in the unit trust that they were promised and further, that the $2 million invested was not applied by Water at Wooyung Pty Ltd for the purpose of developing the Wooyung property.

The Court granted Mr Dale bail with residential and reporting requirements and prohibited him from approaching any international port of departure.

Now this is the mob that refused to prosecute Steve Vizard over insider trading. And Mr Pratt and Visy could be fined a total of $36 million, which is only a fraction of what the cartel cost consumers and companies using their boxes (Pizza customers were slugged every time they took one away from many outlets).

Where is there a proper scale of punishments to fit the crime? That’s not saying Mr Dale has been hard done by. But what he is charged with and what Visy and Mr Pratt have copped the plea to are both the same: white collar crimes, allegedly with no victims.

Well, the Dale case has yet to be tried, but Mr Pratt and Visy have not denied ripping people and companies off for years to the tune of millions of dollars. And I know there are no criminal penalties for price fixing, but can John Howard explain why his government didn’t push these penalties through, despite promising them two years ago?

Being charged with fraud is a serious crime, but how serious is defrauding the public for years as a prime motivator for a price fixing cartel?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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