By PAULINA DURAN
Wilson Asset Management founder Geoff Wilson has told hundreds of investors attending a meeting to get loud against the government crackdown on certain franking credits, using the occasion to take pictures of the crowd with placards he provided to protest the measures.
“Please, be as vocal as you can,” Mr Wilson told about 400 attendees at its shareholder meeting on Wednesday.
Mr Wilson, who manages about $5bn for 130,000 retail investors, is campaigning against the government’s so-called integrity improvement changes to the tax system, arguing they will encourage big business to go overseas to minimise their tax payments and will hurt the ability of small companies to raise capital and pay fully franked dividends.
“Small growth companies in Australia are going to be crippled,” he said.
Mr Wilson, who also led the campaign against Bill Shorten’s policy to ban excess franking credit refunds ahead of the 2019 federal election, said Labor’s proposed measures would hurt capital markets.
“We all saw back in 2018 and 2019 the illogical franking proposal by Labor. And yourselves, your children and your grandchildren, all sent them a clear message back then.
“Again, unfortunately, we need to send a clear message to the government.”
At the start of the meeting, where shareholders interrogated the activist investor about the performance of the WAM stable of funds, Mr Wilson asked attendees to stand up for a photo as they were handed placards that read “Hands off our franked dividends!” and “Broken promises”.
“In the long term … you are encouraging the smartest people in Australia to minimise their tax overseas. We think that will cost the budget at least $1bn a year,” Mr Wilson said.
The proposed legislation is being considered in a Senate economics committee inquiry into the Treasury laws amendments that will report back by May 26.
“The problem is for your children. In the long term, they will be significantly disadvantaged. We hope sanity prevails. Let’s hope that the government does understand the unintended consequences,” Mr Wilson said.
Critics have accused the Albanese government of breaking an election promise, after the Prime Minister vowed before the 2022 election that Labor had no plans to touch either superannuation or the franking credits system.
The legislation would align the tax treatment of off-market share buybacks with on-market buybacks. That means the buyback amount would be considered capital proceeds rather than a portion being considered a franked dividend.
he government also plans to double the concessional tax rate for superannuation balances over $3m, which would be likely to affect 10 per cent of workers within 30 years’ time.
This has triggered accusations from the Coalition aimed at Treasurer Jim Chalmers for what it considers is a further raid on the nation’s retirement funds, with people aged over 75 and super funds being among the most affected by the proposed new laws to curb the claiming of franking credits.
Some large companies have also raised questions about the proposed franking credit law amendments.
Westpac CEO Peter King in December told investors that more clarity was needed about the proposals. Mr King said that during the depths of Covid-19 the prudential regulator told banks to raise capital if they intended to pay a dividend, but the changes being proposed would likely impede such a process for distributing excess franking credits.
A paper released by the government earlier this year ahead of its announced changes to the super tax treatment, found the largest beneficiaries of franking credits were older Australians, Australian companies, super funds and charities.
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