Federal Labor has rubbished a petition being circulated by fund manager Geoff Wilson protesting plans to scrap cash payments for excess franking credits, after 10 opposition MPs, including policy architect and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, received emails from Mr Wilson thanking them for signing it.
Mr Wilson has counter-attacked, saying he called the Australian Federal Police after being told by Mr Bowen that his petition was dodgy. He contends Labor tried to sabotage the petition in an attempt to discredit it. In a bruising exchange of emails, Mr Wilson challenges Mr Bowen’s competency to be Treasurer. Mr Bowen accuses him of being a vested interest with scant regard for the budget bottom line.
Mr Wilson, the founder of Wilson Asset Management, is leading the charge against Labor’s policy to change dividend imputation rules for shareholders. Pensioners are exempt.
He claims to have gathered more than 17,000 signatures so far and told The Australian Financial Review this week that “if we can get this to 50,000 or 100,000 signatures, then Labor will crack”.
But Mr Bowen has furnished an automatically generated email he received from Mr Wilson about 10 days ago, thanking him for “signing our petition to maintain the current dividend imputation system”.
Labor says at least nine other shadow ministers received the same note, including shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh.
Mr Bowen emailed Mr Wilson back to inform him “I did not sign your petition” and “I believe Labor’s reforms are absolutely vital to repairing the budget and improving the fairness of the tax system”.
“I am concerned that the numbers you are claiming publicly have signed your petition are inflated given you seem to have included people who strongly support Labor’s policies in your numbers.
“I would appreciate your clarification as to how such a fundamental error could be made.”
This prompted a feisty response from Mr Wilson who claims Labor signed multiple ALP members up to his petition in an act of sabotage. He said his cyber security team believes they were signed up from the same IP address.
In an email back to Mr Bowen, Mr Wilson said “we take any attempt to undermine the credibility of our petition very seriously, and we are deeply concerned by the alleged impersonation of a public office holder”. He referred the matter to the AFP and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. He also invited Mr Bowen to have a meeting to discuss the policy and try and talk him into dumping it.
“However, Labor will not be changing our policy,” he said.
He challenges Mr Wilson to suggest other polices which “could improve the budget by $6 billion a year”.
Mr Wilson shot back, defending the petition and warning “you would be wise to heed the warning that it represents”.
He cites the “destructive nature of your proposed policy and the weak grasp of finance, economics and history that you reveal by defending it”.
“I am amazed that you feel you are competent to occupy the position of Commonwealth Treasurer given your lack of understanding of capital markets.”
Labor will scrap excess franking credits for everyone except pensioners, part pensioners and any pensioner who is currently a recipient from a self-managed superannuation fund.
It is forecast to raise $10.7 billion its first two years, and $55.7 billion over a decade.
“Mr Wilson has seriously misjudged Labor’s resolve to improve the fairness and sustainability of the tax system if he thinks Labor will crack if he gets 100,000 signatures on his petition,” Mr Bowen told the Financial Review.
“This is particularly the case as we have no faith in the numbers he claims to have”.
He said Mr Wilson should explain “how many other other people have received an email suggesting they signed Mr Wilson’s petition but haven’t”.
“Mr Wilson is entitled to support the current arrangements, being the only country in the world which provides refundable imputation. But Labor has shown we are willing to argue our case with vested interests and argue for the national interest. We will be maintaining this policy and implementing it should we win the election,” he said.
Mr Wilson said it was “appalling” Mr Bowen and Labor were “falsely signing our petition” and says they should have better things to do.