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Merimbula Franking Credit Inquiry labelled “highly unethical”

By Ian Campbell 6 February 2019
The Commonwealth Parliament of Australia came to Merimbula canvassing the impacts of Bill Shorten's plan to remove refundable franking credits for self-funded retirees.Photo: Ian Campbell.

The Commonwealth Parliament of Australia came to Merimbula canvassing the impacts of Bill Shorten’s plan to remove refundable franking credits for self-funded retirees. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The Member for Eden Monaro, Mike Kelly believes this week’s parliamentary hearing in Merimbula was “highly unethical” and undermines democratic conventions.

The Labor MP says the Chair of the House of Representatives Economic Committee, Liberal Tim Wilson has an apparent conflict of interest in the outcome of the Committee’s inquiry into Labor’s rollback of franking credits.

“It has been revealed today that Mr Wilson’s relative – whose finance company he owns shares in – contacted Mr Wilson and asked him as the Chair of the Economics Committee to hold this taxpayer-funded inquiry to undermine Labor’s policy,” Dr Kelly says.

“We also know that Tim Wilson established a website concerning the inquiry which contained a link to a Liberal Party petition against Labor’s policy and that Government MPs have used inquiry hearings to hand out membership application forms for the Liberal and National Party.”

According to The Guardian, “the Liberal MP had coordinated with fund manager Geoff Wilson, chairman of Wilson Asset Management, about tactics, including protest activity to coincide with hearings.”

“Tim Wilson has already sparked controversy by creating a campaign website allowing people to register to attend public hearings. That site is privately funded, and contains an authorisation by Wilson in his capacity as the chairman of standing committee on economics,” The Guardian reports.

“The website signs people up to not only attending the public hearings but for a petition against the retirement tax and allows them to be contacted about – future activities to stop the retirement tax.”

Dr Kelly says, “These actions are highly unethical, and they taint the independence of the inquiry and its outcomes.”

“Mr Wilson has no choice but to resign from the committee, and if he won’t, the Prime Minister should sack him.”

Nineteen of the twenty-one speakers who addressed the Committee in Merimbula on Monday gave a resounding thumbs down to the Shorten policy, cheered on by a supportive room. Only two people, also retirees, seemed to support the Labor policy.

Deputy Chair, Matt Thistlethwaite MP (Labor) Inquiry Secretary, Dr John White, Chair, Tim Wilson MP (Liberal) and Jason Falinski MP (Liberal) Photo: Ian Campbell

Deputy Chair, Matt Thistlethwaite MP (Labor) Inquiry Secretary, Dr John White, Chair, Tim Wilson MP (Liberal) and Jason Falinski MP (Liberal) Photo: Ian Campbell

The President of the Liberal Party of Merimbula spoke but failed to declare his position with the party, others have since suggested he was not alone.

Dr Kelly says the hearings are nothing more than a scare campaign and an abuse of parliamentary processes.

“If we are going to increase our investment in important public services in a fiscally prudent way, we have to recognise that many of the tax concessions that some people have used as an entitlement are no longer sustainable and need to be reformed,” Dr Kelly says.

“This deeply divided Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government is now such a policy free zone that they have no economic policy proposals to investigate for the Economics Committee. Instead, they’re using it to attack Opposition policy.”

Politics aside, those who spoke did genuinely seem anxious about the change if Bill Shorten is elected later this year.

“Under Labor’s proposal my wife’s taxable income would be reduced by 25 per cent to $18,550, this is not a fair go,” says John Esk.

“I have an income of around $50,000, that does not put me in the wealthy, rich category, we can live comfortably,” says Bayden Cameron.

“At our stage of life, my wife and I have no ability to adjust our investment decisions, to replace the projected loss of income,” says Chris Young.

“I consulted my accountant last week, I said – Scott what will this cost me? He estimated about a grand a month,” says Chris Sparks.

21 people spoke for around three minutes each. Photo: Ian Campbell.

21 people spoke for around three minutes each. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Written submissions to the inquiry are still being taken. More information is available via the Committee’s website which no longer includes the earlier references to the Liberal Party petition.

Mr Wilson did recognise some failings in the process when quizzed in Merimbula by Deputy Chair, Labor’s Matt Thistlethwaite.

Mr Wilson described links between the official committee website and the Liberal’s petition as a coding error.

How the two got to be so close for that to happen wasn’t canvased.

At the heart of this issue is a legitimate debate about an ageing Australia, the future cost of health care, and reform to the tax system. The politics that are now being revealed point to why that discussion didn’t/couldn’t happen.

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