Belgiorno-Nettis Family

Jan 14, 2021 | Secret Rich List

The Belgiorno-Nettis family co-founded Transfield Group which most notably built the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and now operates it in a Dark Company. They are large political donors with no less than eight companies on the Secret Rich List. 

Top 200 Rich List (2020)No. of Dark Companies:
Political Donations since FY 1998-99
Rank: N/ATransfield Pty LimitedLabor Party: $895,298
Wealth: Transfield Holdings Pty. LimitedCoalition: $451,138
Wealth (2019): Transfield Corporate Pty. LimitedIndependent: $2,000
YoY wealth change:Transfield Construction Pty LimitedTotal: $1,348,436
Transfield International Pty Limited
Transfield Holdings Overseas Pty Limited
Transtunnel (Finance) Pty Ltd
Transtunnel (Nominees) Pty Ltd

Transfield Pty Limited – now a Dark Company – was co-founded by fellow Italian-born mechanical engineers Franco Belgiorno-Nettis and Carlo Salteri in 1956. The Salteris also own several Dark Companies and despite a falling out between the founding families in the 1990s, they still share executive roles in the grandfathered entities Transtunnel (Finance) Pty Ltd and Transtunnel (Nominees) Pty Ltd.

This fallout led to a demerger of the Transfield Group in 1996. The restructure saw the Belgiorno-Nettis’ retain the Transfield name and the engineering, investment, transport and infrastructure industries, while the Salteri’s kept the defence arm under a new organisation called Tenix.

These days, the Transfield Group is run by Franco’s sons Luca and Guido. Projects linked to the family outside the industry include the newDemocracy Foundation which was founded by Luca in 2004, touted as “a not-for-profit research organisation focused on political reform.” In 2016, the family sold more than $30 million worth of Sydney real estate including a property built by Franco in the 1960s.

Prior to the fracture between the founding families, the Transfield enterprise won the bid from the NSW government to construct and operate the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. The project commenced in 1988 and was completed and opened to the public in 1992.

The deal was legislated by a 30-year contract with the State government which gave Transfield ownership of the harbour tunnel by overseeing its operation and maintenance until 2022. The company would generate profits from the tolls to pay off construction costs.

Despite the separation between the families and the Salteri’s alleged dissociation from the Transfield Group, both patriarchs continue to own the harbour tunnel in a joint-venture including two Dark Companies: Transfield Holdings Pty. Limited for the Belgiorno-Nettis family, and Olbia Pty Limited for the Salteris.

Interestingly, both joint-venture companies are parents of Transtunnel (Finance) and Transtunnel (Nominees) where both families sit on the board.

In 2001, Transfield Group consolidated its maintenance contracting division including power, transportation and hydro assets into a new operation which they listed on the ASX as Transfield Services. Transfield Holdings, the same Dark Company operating the harbour tunnel, owned an initial 45% stake in the listed company.

Since that time, Transfield Services has made several acquisitions in various industries such as operating offshore detention centres including Manus Island and Nauru. Their maintenance of the immigration facilities came into question in 2015 for their prevalence of “violent riots, child sexual abuse allegations, assaults and other human rights breaches, and have been consistently condemned by the United Nations”.

Amid the controversy, the Belgiorno-Nettis’ – who had sold their 11.3% stake in Transfield Services for over $90 million – “withdrew its permission to use their Transfield brand.”

The company was subsequently rebranded under the ‘Broadspectrum’ name and logo. However, the shift in identity does not change the fact that Transfield Services/Broadspectrum are serial tax dodgers, including when the Belgiorno-Nettis’ held a controlling stake in the company using their private entity on the Secret Rich List.


How we compiled this list

What are they trying to hide? This is the driving question behind our ‘Secret Rich List’ project at Michael West Media.

Our aim is to shine the spotlight on the 1,119 large proprietary companies that continue to enjoy a privileged exemption from having to lodge financial reports to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

An exemption from any new law or regulation is commonly referred to as ‘grandfathering’. In this case, the exemption from having to lodge audited accounts effectively creates two classes of Australian citizens; large proprietary companies that have to comply with government legislation, and the remaining 1,119 companies that by definition are required to do the same, yet enjoy an antiquated free pass from full public transparency.

What was issued as a “temporary measure” by the government of Paul Keating in 1995 has placed these companies above the law for more than 25 years. We believe it is in the public interest to put an end to this outdated government legislation once and for all.

Although ASIC  defines the companies enjoying the exemption as as grandfathered large proprietary companies, we prefer the term ‘Dark Companies’; it is a more fitting description of old wealth empires whose financial accounts are cloaked by this provision, shadowed from the public eye.

History behind the 1995 grandfathering exemption

This grandfathering regime was issued in response to The First Corporate Law Simplification Act 1995, a 1995 amendment to the Corporations Law at the time.

Before this amendment, whether a company had to prepare and lodge financial accounts with ASIC was determined by whether they were an exempt or non-exempt proprietary company (exempt meant the company did not have to publish accounts).

ASIC defines exempt proprietary companies as:

“companies where there was no direct or indirect public ownership; that is, they were essentially owned by private individuals. The companies were not required to lodge financial reports where those financial reports were subject to audit and sent to members.”

Under the First Corporate Law Simplification Act 1995 the measure of whether a company had to lodge financial accounts with ASIC changed from the reporting entity test (exempt/non-exempt system) to what became known as the ‘small/large test’.If the company was considered a ‘large’ proprietary company, then it must lodge its accounts.

As of the law in 1995, an Australian proprietary company was ‘large’ if it satisfied two of the following three criteria:

  • consolidated gross assets of $5 million or more;
  • consolidated gross revenue of $10 million or more;
  • the company and the entities it controls (if any) have more than 50 employees at the end of the financial year.

The criteria for the small/large test has since been updated.

The new legislation meant that a significant number of previously exempt organisations now had to prepare and lodge their financial accounts.

The explanatory memorandum for the Bill notes: “To avoid disrupting established commercial arrangements, those existing exempt proprietary companies which have their annual accounts audited, which are large and which elect to continue operating under the existing rules, will not need to lodge their accounts with [ASIC].”.

Thus was born the concept of the grandfathered list - or Secret Rich List as we like to call it. In 1995, it was home to more than 2,000 large proprietary companies.

Significant Global Entities

Some 12 of the 1,119 Dark Companies are considered ‘significant global entities’ (SGE). An entity becomes an SGE if it fits at least one of the two following criteria:

  • a 'global parent entity' whose 'annual global income' is A$1 billion or more,
  • a member of a group of entities consolidated (for accounting purposes) where the global parent entity has an annual global income of A$1 billion or more.

These entities must prepare and lodge general purpose financial accounts with ASIC. This requirement is no different for the 12 SGEs on the Secret Rich List as their SGE status overrides the grandfathering exemption.


MWM Methodology

Using both the ASIC and Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) databases we have conducted more than 5,000 searches and counting.

Through the ASIC searches we have been able to collate the necessary information for every company on the grandfathered list, ranging from company directors, shareholders (both persons and organisations), a company’s auditor and much more. This has all been incorporated into our database, which is designed to map out these Dark Companies and tackle our driving question.

We also used the AEC database to generate an extensive list of political donations from these Dark Companies that date from the 1998-99 financial year to the present. We have designed a separate database for these figures, listing political donations from the entity itself, its directors and/or its shareholders. Each donation has been separated into recipient categories to better display the amounts funnelled to the Liberal and Labor parties and their constituencies.

The donations help indicate why the exemption, which ensures such a lack of transparency, has stood the test of time despite numerous attempts over the years from both sides of Parliament, the cross bench, the Greens, Treasury, corporate regulator ASIC and a joint parliamentary inquiry, which have all called for the exemption to be abolished. Both databases created by Michael West Media complement each other to bolster the narrative of the stories that follow.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This