Sep 282017
 

Consultation

The Treasury has today (28 September 2017) released a consultation paper on reforms to address illegal phoenix activity. The closing date for submissions by interested parties is 27 October 2017.

The paper is available for download from the Treasury website.

Below is the foreword to the paper, by the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services:

Phoenixing involves the stripping and transfer of assets from one company to another to avoid paying liabilities. It hurts all Australians, including employees, creditors, competing businesses and taxpayers, and has been a problem for successive governments over many decades.

Phoenixing has a significant financial impact – in 2012, the Fair Work Ombudsman and PwC estimated the cost of phoenixing to the Australian economy to be as high as $3.2 billion annually. It also undermines business’ and the public’s confidence in the corporate and insolvency sectors and the broader economy.

Companies fail for many different reasons, and it can be difficult to distinguish between those who are engaging in illegal phoenix activity and those who are simply involved in a failed company.  We are committed to helping honest and diligent entrepreneurs who drive Australia’s productivity, but we won’t tolerate those who misuse the corporate form, to defeat creditors and rip off all Australians. Continue reading »

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Sep 132017
 

Phoenix

Media release, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, 12 September 2017:

The Turnbull Government is taking action to crack down on illegal phoenixing activity that costs the economy up to $3.2 billion per year to ensure those involved face tougher penalties, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, announced today.

Phoenixing – the stripping and transfer of assets from one company to another by individuals or entities to avoid paying liabilities – has been a problem for successive governments over many decades. It hurts all Australians, including employees, creditors, competing businesses and taxpayers.

The Government’s comprehensive package of reforms will include the introduction of a Director Identification Number (DIN) and a range of other measures to both deter and penalise phoenix activity.

The DIN will identify directors with a unique number, but it will be much more than just a number. The DIN will interface with other government agencies and databases to allow regulators to map the relationships between individuals and entities and individuals and other people.

In addition to the DIN, the Government will consult on implementing a range of other measures to deter and disrupt the core behaviours of phoenix operators, including non-directors such as facilitators and advisers. These include: Continue reading »

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Feb 252017
 

Melb Uni
Researchers at Melbourne University have issued their third and final report on investigations into insolvency fraud committed through the use of phoenix companies.

The 162 page report, issued on 24 February 2017, is titled Phoenix Activity: Recommendations On Detection, Disruption And Enforcement.

In the Executive Summary the authors state:

Harmful phoenix activity, left unchecked, has the capacity to undermine Australia’s revenue base and the competitive ‘level playing field’. It is wrong that legitimate business operators, paying taxes, wages and other debts, might be driven out of business by those engaging in harmful phoenix activity. Minimising business distrust caused by harmful phoenix activity can lower the cost of finance and make it more widely available. If less tax revenue is fraudulently avoided, the economy and society as a whole benefit. If fewer employee entitlements are lost as a result of harmful phoenix activity, there is likely to be less reliance on the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, freeing up government resources for other purposes.

What was described in earlier reports as “fraudulent phoenix activity” is described in the final report as “harmful phoenix activity”.

CLICK HERE to read and/or download a copy of the report.

The authors are Professor Helen Anderson, Professor Ian Ramsay, Professor Michelle Welsh and research fellow Mr Jasper Hedges.

Their Phoenix Project (“Phoenix Activity: Regulating Fraudulent Use of the Corporate Form”) “seeks to enhance Australia’s economic stability by determining the best methods of addressing fraudulent use of the corporate form without unduly inhibiting its proper use”. The project was launched in 3 years ago.

Analysis and highlights of the report will be posted here in due course.


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Dec 042015
 

The Senate Economics References Committee has criticised the contempt that some directors show for company laws, the “mild” consequences of non-compliance and the low likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected.

In its report “Insolvency in the Australian construction industry: I just want to be paid” – published 3 December 2015 – the Senate Committee states:

The committee considers that the estimates of the incidence of illegal phoenix activity detailed in this report suggest that construction industry is being beset by a growing culture among some company directors of disregard for the corporations law. This view is reinforced by the anecdotal evidence received by the committee which indicates that phoenixing is considered by some in the industry as merely the way business is done in order to make a profit.

The committee is particularly concerned at evidence that a culture has developed in sections of the industry in which some company directors consider compliance with the corporations law to be optional, because the consequences of non-compliance are so mild and the likelihood that unlawful conduct will be detected is so low.

This culture is reflected in the number of external administrator reports indicating possible breaches of civil and criminal misconduct by company directors in the construction industry. Over three thousand possible cases of civil misconduct and nearly 250 possible criminal offences under the Corporations Act 2001 were reported in a single year in the construction industry. This is a matter for serious concern. It suggests an industry in which company directors’ contempt for the rule of law is becoming all too common.

[from Executive summary, Phoenixing (page xix) and paragraph 5.100 (page 87)]
Continue reading »

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Nov 122015
 

Transcripts have now been published for all of the public hearings of the Senate inquiry into insolvencies in construction industry. Phoenixing of companies is the main topic discussed. Several insolvency practitioners have given evidence, and at the hearing in Sydney on 28th September the insolvency profession was criticised by the leading participant, Senator Doug Cameron. At the public hearing in Melbourne on 29th September the Walton Constructions case was discussed in detail by the insolvency practitioners initially appointed as external administrators.

A list of the public hearings and those who appeared as witnesses is provided below. Continue reading »

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Aug 132015
 

What reasons are given for the failure and insolvency of non-corporate businesses, i.e., those owned by individuals as sole traders or in partnership? Is there any alignment between the reasons given for non-corporate business failures and the reasons given for corporate failures? And where a non-corporate (aka personal) business  insolvency has been brought about by the phoenix scheme of a corporate customer or client, is this made known to the regulator for statistical purposes?

This article is an extension of the discussion in my post  “Confusing causes of corporate insolvency”. Continue reading »

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Jun 192015
 

(19/6/2015) A lively public hearing before the Senate Committee looking into insolvency in the Australian construction industry has been told by several speakers that sub-contractors should be protected by requiring head contractors to place money in trust funds. The Committee also heard about debt collection methods, outlaw bikie gangs and new allegations concerning events leading up to the collapse of Walton Construction in October 2013.

Those appearing before the Committee on 12 June 2015 included Mr Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction and General Division, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), representatives of the Subcontractors Alliance, Project Resources, Masonry Contractors Association of NSW, EcoClassic Group Pty Ltd and Erincole Building Services Pty Ltd.

MORE TO COME: At the close of the day Senator Cameron said: “Chair, there might be other issues once we have a look at the Hansard. We might need to get some of this group back again further on. This inquiry is going to run for a bit of time yet, so we will need to have a look, see what you said and come back.”

The official Hansard transcript of the hearing on 12 June 2015 was recently published on the Parliament’s website. A PDF copy of the 56 page transcript may be downloaded from that site by clicking here.

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May 152014
 

Since mid-2012, when the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) was given the power to wind up companies that met certain criteria, ASIC has ordered the winding up of 19 companies.
 
In its media releases ASIC has estimated that those 19 companies have over $1.5 million in unpaid employee entitlements (wages, leave, etc.) owing to 100 workers.
 
As a result of the companies being wound up, those workers will be entitled to claim payment of their entitlements from the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) scheme administered by the Department of Employment.
 
The following chart lists the 19 “abandoned companies” wound up by ASIC. They are called “abandoned” because ASIC believes they are no longer carrying on business and that their directors have effectively walked away from them and their debts. abandon-companies

Background:

 
In July 2012 ASIC was given the power to order the winding up of a company in certain circumstances [Part 5.4C of the Corporations Act 2001] [Section 489EA]. In the lead up to this legislation the phrase “abandoned companies” was coined to describe such companies. Shortly after obtaining these powers ASIC decided that its primary consideration when exercising its discretion would be whether ordering the winding up of a company would facilitate employee access to funds from the government’s General Employee Entitlements Scheme (GEERS), since replaced by the Fair Entitlement Guarantee scheme (FEG). [ASIC Consultation Paper 180]. This objective had been the main reason behind introduction of the new law, which was part of the Gillard Government’s  Protecting Workers’ Entitlements package of April 2012.  A precondition for an employee of a company receiving a payment from GEERS/FEG is that the company be placed into liquidation.

Links:

ASIC media release 13-233MR “Workers to gain access to entitlements after ASIC employs new powers”  27 August 2013 ASIC media release 14-097MR ” ASIC wind-up actions enable access to employee entitlements”  6 May 2014


 

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Oct 252013
 

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has focused its recent submission to the inquiry by the Australian Senate into “The performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission” on the issue of phoenix company activity.

Union logo

The AMWU claims that “ASIC’s failure to adequately hold directors to account has cost millions of dollars worth of unpaid entitlements for employees nationwide. The time is now for action to be taken, impunity to end, and for unscrupulous directors to be held accountable.”

The AMWU submission (21 October 2013) makes four recommendations, namely:

1) Increasing resources and funding to ASIC so that it can properly investigate corporate misbehaviour.

2) A comprehensive review and amendment of s 596AB of the Corporations Act to provide stronger safeguards for employee entitlements and allow for more successful actions by ASIC and liquidators.

3) Introducing a reverse onus procedure by which a director, where there has been an adverse liquidators’ report lodged against them, will be required to ensure that they have acted honestly and responsibly in relation to company affairs.

4) Increasing ASIC’s legislative powers to hold directors and officers personally responsible for unpaid employee entitlements, with a particular focus on phoenix activity.

In expanding on and explaining these recommendations the AMWU says:

1) “ASIC is under-resourced to handle the thousands of complaints submitted to it every year. Regardless of what legislative or regulatory reforms are undertaken, without additionally funding, ASIC will not be able to protect the interests of even the most vulnerable of parties, such as employees. There needs to be a commitment to replace impunity with accountability, and increased resources and funding to ASIC must be the driving force behind this.”

2) “The intention behind s 596AB was to “deter the misuse of company structures … to avoid the payment of amounts to employees that they are entitled to prove for on liquidation of their employer”. This intention has not materialised. Instead, the criticism that s 596AB will prove to be a “toothless tiger… so hard to prove that nobody will be effectively prosecuted” has been proven true. This recommendation would allow for ASIC to, more easily, bring proceedings against directors who have compromised employee entitlements through corporate restructures. This would have a threefold effect of protecting employee entitlements, holding dishonest directors to account, and deterring similar conduct.”

3) “This recommendation is modelled upon Irish legislation under the Companies Act 1990 (Ireland) s 149. In Ireland, where an adverse liquidators’ report has been lodged, directors must ensure that a large amount of equity capital is invested in the new company (at least £100 000 with a minimum of £20 000 paid up in cash) or are required to prove in court why they should not be required to do so. This reverse onus procedure would reduce the detection and compliance burden on ASIC.”

4) “The AMWU submits that continued review of the anti-phoenix activity measures implemented be undertaken, especially in light of the first anniversary of the enactment of the Corporations Amendment (Phoenixing and Other Measures) Act 2012 (Cth).”

In support of its submission the AMWU gives its summary of the following recent cases:

• Steel Tube Pipe Group
• Forgecast Australia Pty Ltd (AMWU v Beynon [2013] FCA 390)
• Carlton Sheet Metal Pty Ltd
• Huon Corporation
• Paragon Printing Ltd

The inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics began on 20 June 2013. Submissions were to close on 21 October 2013. The Committee is due to report by 31 March 2014.

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