Scott Morrison’s office will be investigated for leaking news about the bank tax before the budget was released, the head of the corporate regulator says.
Greg Medcraft, the head of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic), has told senators he was so concerned about a pre-budget article in the Australian Financial Review, which contained specific details about the Turnbull government’s bank tax, that he started an investigation the day after the budget.
Details were leaked before the budget was released, leading to Australia’s bank stocks losing a cumulative $14bn in value in the hours before the budget was released at 7.30pm on 9 May.
Sky News had first reported, on the evening before the budget, that the government would be introducing a tax on transactions between the banks, called a “Tobin tax”.
The next day, on the morning of the budget, the AFR reported that the treasurer, Scott Morrison, had opted for a tax on the banks’ liabilities, which proved correct.
Medcraft told Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday he was particularly concerned about the AFR story because “it was quite well informed”.
“The fact that he knew the meeting was occurring at six o’clock, and it was before the lock-up so, it sort of rung an alarm bell,” he said of AFR journalist Tony Boyd’s story.
“Because the night before, the information that [Sky] had was not that accurate, whereas the information that Tony Boyd had was far more detailed.”
He said the fall in bank stocks on budget day were not huge, but were serious enough to catch his attention, and he spoke to the treasury secretary, John Fraser, soon after.
When asked if he would be speaking to Morrison’s office as part of his investigation, he confirmed he would.
“I think you can draw your own conclusion,” he said.
“Anyone who had access to that information. It’s a fairly, you know, everyone who was in the circle that knew the information was obviously relevant.
“We think this is quite important to market integrity.”
Cathie Armour, Asic commissioner, said her colleagues were talking to treasury officials about who knew about the bank levy, and the Australian federal police were also involved.
She did not know how long the investigation would take. When asked if Asic had sought the telecommunications records of the Treasury staff, she said: “We are going to go through our normal process … We’ll of course look at all the material we need to look at.
“If you don’t mind, I think at this stage it’s possibly not all that constructive to our inquiries to go through exactly what we’ve looked at because we’re at early stages.”