The list of “protected” companies that are not required to file full financial statements courtesy of a Keating-era exemption — which the government has been fighting tooth-and-nail to protect — contains an extensive array of large Liberal Party donors.

The exemptions were introduced in 1995 when corporations law was consolidated and imposed new reporting requirements on large private firms, which were “grandfathered” to be exempt from the new requirements, leaving a list of companies that did not have to lodge full financial statements with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Fairfax’s Ben Butler has an excellent backgrounder here).

But in 2013, Labor introduced a requirement, taking effect from December this year, that all firms worth more than $100 million would have their revenue, taxable revenue and the amount of tax they have paid published by the Australian Tax Office (to which, of course, all firms must make full financial disclosures). The grandfathering exemption — ASIC and Treasury both oppose — would remain in place but, in the case of large private firms over $100 million, be partially circumvented.

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This is the requirement the government has sought to defeat by arguing, absurdly and without evidence, that it would expose Australia’s richest families to the threat of kidnapping and was an invasion of privacy. A recent Senate attempt to reinsert the requirement in the government’s multinational tax bill led a furious Scott Morrison to denounce the Senate and reject the bill.

Why has the government been so determined to protect a handful of large companies from basic transparency?

Yesterday, the list of companies subject to the exemption became public, and a notable entry is “Turnbull and Partners”. The Prime Minister’s Office has said he will write to ASIC to ask that it be removed from the list.

But an examination of the list shows that some of the country’s most politically powerful and wealthiest families — and the Liberal Party’s biggest donors — are benefiting from the disclosure exemption. The companies of Dick Honan, whose Manildra has contributed over $420,000 to the Liberal and National parties over the last decade, are exempted. Michael Crouch’s Zip companies are exempted: those companies have contributed over $170,000 since 2005-06 to the Liberal Party, and Crouch himself has given nearly $50,000 in recent years. The late Paul Ramsay’s healthcare companies are on the list as well as his holding company; the latter gave $600,000 to the Liberals in the year before his death in 2014, as well as $25,000 to the Nationals.

The healthcare company of the late Doug Moran — the enormously influential NSW Liberal donor and nursing home operator who fell out with the Howard-era Liberals over aged care policy — is also on the list. The late Richard Pratt’s companies are on there, including Visy, which engaged in price-fixing; Pratt gave a monster $200,000 donation to the Liberals in 2006, which John Howard said would not be returned after revelations of Visy’s price-fixing. Other powerful business names dot the list: Kerry Stokes’ Australian Capital Equity is there, as are companies controlled by the Grollo family (Grocon), Lindsay Fox (Linfox), and Transfield and Tenix.

In this mix, Turnbull is a fairly junior inclusion: the most important names belong to Australia’s most powerful and wealthiest families, whom one alienates at one’s peril — especially if they’re a generous donor.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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