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digital currency, bitcoin, conflict of interest
Rosie Williams, BA (Sociology)
1st May 2019
Federal Politicians Should Declare Their Bitcoin Investments
Rosie investigates whether Australian politicians should be declaring their Bitcoin along with their other investments.

In accounting for conflicts of interest among our politicians, what is perhaps more interesting than what is declared is what is kept out of the public eye. Working so closely with the pecuniary interests data, I noticed that there are no declarations relating to cryptocurrencies. However I do not think this is because no current or recent parliamentarians have investments in digital currencies. I suspect the absence of declarations is more likely because no one has previously raised the question.

Cryptocurrency or digital currencies allow people to make financial transactions through a blockchain ledger instead of using a bank. It is this independence from existing power structures and central control that many people find attractive about cryptocurrency.

When authorities put the squeeze on Wikileaks, refusing to process credit card donations, Bitcoin proved an alternative avenue for supporters.

The APH site confirms that conflicts of interests are relevant are where Members or Senators sit on Parliamentary Committees:

Standing order 231 states that no Member may sit on a committee if he or she has a particular direct pecuniary interest in a matter under inquiry by the committee. (For further discussion see ‘Pecuniary and personal interest’ in Chapter on 'Parliamentary committees'.

The failure of parliamentarians to declare their cryptocurrency investments to the interest registers is particularly galling in light of the ATO crackdown on capital gains by people who trade cryptocurrency.

With a single Bitcoin currently worth between $7,000 and $8,000 AUD, it could be the case that Australian federal politicians own considerable investments in digital currency that are not being declared to the pecuniary interests registers. This is of particular interest given the 2015 inquiry into digital currencies.

The Parliamentary Inquiry 'Digital Currency, game changer or bit player?', reported in August 2015 on regulation issues such as money laundering and counter-terrorism but failed to acknowledge the need for parliamentarians to report their digital currency investments.

Given that...

On 13 February 1986 the House resolved that any Member who: knowingly fails to provide a statement of registrable interests to the Registrar of Members’ Interests by the due date; knowingly fails to notify any alteration of those interests to the Registrar of Members’ Interests within 28 days of the change occurring; or knowingly provides false or misleading information to the Registrar of Members’ Interests— ‘shall be guilty of a serious contempt of the House of Representatives and shall be dealt with by the House accordingly’. [APH]

...it is clearly time Australian politicians started following their own rules and declared their digital currency investments.

The Standing Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests has been dissolved due to the election being called but this committee normally reports on complaints about privilege or contempt. Fortunately, questions are still being answered and the Registrar of Members' Interests Deputy Clerk for the House of Representatives provided the following in response to my enquiry:

The resolutions of the House which relate to Members’ interests establish a registration requirement covering the assets and liabilities and other interests of Members. The resolutions do not list all possible interests specifically. In relation to cryptocurrencies, there are several clauses in the resolutions which might apply, including:
(2)(h) saving or investment accounts, indicating their nature and the name of the bank or other institutions concerned;
(2)(i) the nature of any other assets (including household and personal effects) each valued at over $7,500; and
(2)(n) any other interests where a conflict of interest with a Member’s public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise.
[8] ACCOUNTABILITY
[7] INFLUENCE
[5] PRIVACY
[4] CHARITIES
[3] DEMOCRACY
[3] CENSUS
[3] THINKTANKS
[2] MEDIA BIAS
[2] WORKER RIGHTS