The Abbott Government is slashing the budgets of business watchdog ASIC and the ATO as its corporate backers cheat consumers and dodge taxes on an industrial scale.
At the same time, it proposes doubling the budget of its anti-union building industry taskforce and spending more than $50 million taxpayer dollars on another royal commission into trade unions.
CFMEU Construction National Secretary, Dave Noonan, says those priorities tell Australians all they need to know about this federal government.
“It is a government that turns a blind eye to corporate rorting while seeking to criminalise legitimate trade union activity,” Mr Noonan said.
“It is slashing health, education and corporate compliance while spending up large on an ideological campaign to make it unlawful for building workers to effectively look after one another, or the interests of their families.”
Mr Noonan made his comments in the week a multi-party Senate Committee found “serious misconduct” by Commonwealth Bank financial advisers might have impacted on up to 10,000 risk averse customers.
Committee members estimate the bank, which topped up Liberal and National Party coffers before the last federal election, might be looking at a compensation bill of more than $250 million.
The news comes off the back of a string of finance sector scandals and collapses that have cost Australians their homes and life savings – Timbercorp, Great Southern, Storm Financial, Westpoint and HIH, among them.
The Senate Committee urged ASIC to investigate growing concerns over Macquarie Private Wealth, ANZ Custodians and UBS Wealth Management.
But Prime Minister Abbott and Finance Minister Matthias Cormann have distanced themselves from calls for a royal commission into a sector which AEC records show poured $1.7 million into political donations, last year alone.
In a television interview, filmed as their trade union royal commission raked over 20-year old allegations about Julia Gillard’s home renovations, Cormann said Commonwealth Bank issues had occurred “some time in the past and a lot has changed since that time”.
Extraordinarily, on the day the Senate Committee released its report, Cormann slipped through regulations that unwound changes designed to protect consumers of financial advice.
Cormann registered regulations, originally sponsored by Arthur Sinodinis, to block changes that would have forbidden banks from rewarding financial planners who steered customers into their own products. They also over-rode requirements on planners to tell former clients how much they would continue to pay in trailing fees and commissions.
Far from beefing-up ASIC, the Abbott government has stripped $120 million out of its funding in favour of increased corporate “self-regulation”.
But the biggest departmental cut, by far, announced in its first budget, was aimed at the Australian Tax Office which will lose more than $142 million over the next three years. The ATO has already flagged 2300 job losses in the next 12 months.
The budget was delivered weeks before the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Australia’s largest miner, Glencore Xstrata, had paid virtually no tax in the last three years, on profits of more than $15 billion.
A Herald investigation claimed Glencore had used “aggressive tax avoidance tactics” and accused it of “blatant irregularities”.
Glencore is another major financial backer of the Liberal Party. Last year its subsidiary, Viterra Ltd, directed $150,000 to Abbott’s party through donation-laundering front, the Free Enterprise Foundation, whose activities were unmasked by the NSW corruption watchdog, ICAC.
Glencore sent another $50,000 the way of the National Party via the same back-door arrangement.