Dividend crusader gets second wind as franking stoush re-emerges

It may seem odd that a tax policy that appears to be a tidying up exercise from the Albanian government, forecast to generate a modest $10 million, could generate so much heat from shareholders. But fiddling with any part of Australia’s existing dividend franking regime is a dangerous exercise.

And for this Labor government, which should still be licking the wounds from its previous attempt to overhaul franking credits, it’s kryptonite.

The policy to end cash refunds for excess franking credits, which Labor took to the 2019 election, blew up in its face at the polling booths, with the fight against the meddling led by the retail shareholder community’s cuff linked crusader, Geoff Wilson.

Geoff Wilson warns the federal treasurer to keep his mitts of franking.

Geoff Wilson warns the federal treasurer to keep his mitts of franking.Credit:Juanita Wilson

Wilson’s resistance at the time delivered more positive publicity than any advertising or marketing campaign could buy and boosted his brand as a protector of mum and dad shareholders.

No surprise then that Wilson is back on the warpath – highlighting the potential pitfalls and “unintended consequences” of the Albanian government’s latest attempt to apply a bit more rigor around the distribution of franking credits to shareholders.

Jim Chalmers' October budget is expected to show an increase in interest costs of more than $120 billion over the coming decade.

Jim Chalmers’ October budget is expected to show an increase in interest costs of more than $120 billion over the coming decade.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The policy, which has been put out for consultation, seeks to stop companies from paying fully franked dividends from the proceeds of an equity raising. It wants to stop companies from raising funds for the express purpose of giving it back to shareholders with a franking credit attached – and it proposes to do this retrospectively.

But there were a number of companies that raised capital the COVID-19 pandemic only to return it to shareholders when the impact of the pandemic later was expected to return. These instances did not appear to be an artificial means to stream franking credits.

The franked dividend regime was originally designed to avoid shareholders paying tax on dividends when the corporation had already paid tax on the profit it was distributing.

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