Mr Smith told the Parliament on Thursday that he appreciated concerns have been raised about the member for Goldstein and that the actions could be “seen to have caused damage to the committee’s reputation and damage to the house committee system more generally”.
“In considering these matters it is important to recognise that the penal power of the house is significant and should be exercised with restraint,” he said.
Mr Smith said he did not believe evidence had been presented to demonstrate Mr Wilson has prevented the committee from fulfilling its basic responsibilities, but made clear his concerns about a website accompanying the inquiries, part-bankrolled by fund manager Wilson Asset Management.
Mr Wilson failed to tell hundreds of people who signed a petition on his government website – stoptheretirementtax.com – that their names, addresses, phone numbers and emails would be transferred to the company, run by his distant relative Geoff Wilson
Mr Smith said Mr Wilson’s actions have not always conformed with the conventions usually observed by chairs or house committees.
The Speaker said committee members should be able to expect these arrangements should be made without interference.
“The particular matters I would mention include having a private website authorised by the badging of the chair of the committee which appeared to solicit submissions form attendees from just one perspective,” he said.
“And secondly apparently arranging for the committee meeting to coincide with a meeting of a group with an active interest in the comittee’s inquiry, including the intention to engage in possible protest activity in the hearing.”
The government’s franking credit inquiry was scheduled on the same day and within a few hundred metres of the annual general meeting of Wilson Asset Management. Geoff Wilson boasted on an investor phone call in September that he would coordinate protests at the inquiry with Mr Wilson to maximise the chances of defeating the policy.
Mr Smith said he thought there was potential for interference, but did not find it had unduly prevented the committee from performing its work.
“If there is such evidence, I would happy to be consider the matter further,” he said.
He chastised Liberal MP Andrew Wallace after it was revealed he handed out Liberal party membership forms at one of the committee hearings in Queensland.
“The handing out of party political material or a display of signs by individual members at hearings should not be tolerated by chairs,” he said.
Mr Wilson has declared two separate investments in Wilson Asset Managed funds on his parliamentary interest register, but failed to declare those investments at hearings the company was giving evidence at. The company, which has $3 billion in funds under management, is potentially exposed to a change in policy, with many of its 80,000 investors retirees that rely on franking credits.
Mr Smith said the provision was interpreted in the very narrow sense of an interest, “peculiar to a particular person”, and that Mr Wilson’s retirement investments did not qualify.
But he warned MPs standards should be lifted.
“Members have been advised to declare at any meetings matters of a pecuniary or other interest where there may be a perceived conflict of interest,” he said.
The Australian Information Commissioner said on Wednesday it had launched “preliminary inquiries” into Mr Wilson’s transfer of voters information to Wilson Asset Management to establish if it had jurisdiction to investigate a breach of the Privacy Act.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.