Australia facing corporate crime wave

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has released its extensive examination of corporate wrongdoing, providing an overview of corporate breaches pursued by ASIC, the ATO, ACCC, Fair Work Ombudsman and Fair Work Commission.

Given there is no central database to provide an overall view of corporate breaches, the ACTU commissioned the Australia Institute to examine and collate this report, Corporate Malfeasance in Australia, based on administrative data on the public record.

Since the report was compiled we have also seen Colgate-Palmolive fined $18 million for cartel conduct with others facing hearings over their alleged roles in the scandal in June.

ACTU President Ged Kearney says Australia is facing a corporate crime wave yet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has cut funding for corporate regulators.

Key facts

  • 5,000 matters are brought before the courts involving organisations (mainly companies) as defendants each year and on average around 4,000 are found guilty.
  • The Turnbull Government has culled 3926 jobs at Australian corporate regulators since 2013-14.
  • 217,000 employee complaints were finalised by the Fair Work Ombudsman in between 2006 and 2015.  These investigations resulted in repayments of unpaid wages and entitlements averaging $991 per worker.
  • Over the last 10 years the ACCC has taken action against 669 companies: 167 for competition issues, 489 safeguarding consumers and against unfair trade and 13 others.  The top 50 Australian listed companies accounted for 29 court appearances.
  • In the four and a half years to December 2015, ASIC successfully concluded 3,115 cases against corporations, of which 2,095 were criminal matters.
  • The ATO prosecutes 300 companies per year for breaches including tax evasion, concealing profit and underpayment of GST and other indirect taxes.

Ged Kearney, ACTU President says: “The illegal corporate activities identified in this report amount to a massive violation of public trust.  Malcolm Turnbull can no longer ignore the need for a national Independent Commission Against Corruption and a Royal Commission into the banking and finance sector.

“We are facing a corporate crime wave but the regulators supposed to police corporate crime have had 3926 staff cut in the last two years.

“These rulings against corporations are a drop in the ocean.  We know that for every corporate wrongdoing that is actually pursued by a government agency there are thousands of cases that agencies do not have the resources to pursue.

“What we see in this report represents the tip of the iceberg.  We have analysed offences that are discovered and proceed to prosecution.   Given so many corporate breaches go unreported, imagine the flagrant unlawful conduct going on everyday in corporate Australia.

“Looking at this Report it is clear the situation is getting worse and the impact of unlawful corporate behaviour is mounting on Turnbull’s watch.   We found hundreds of thousands of examples of companies evading and avoiding tax, workers being underpaid and consumers being ripped off.

“A national ICAC is a permanent response to dealing with corruption and shining a light on misconduct wherever it occurs.

“When it comes to the crunch, it seems Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to put the interests of big business ahead of ordinary working Australians.”

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