The federal opposition says tougher rules proposed for proxy advice firms smack of revenge, and are not in the public interest.
“It stinks of crazy revenge politics,” shadow assistant treasurer Stephen Jones told AAP.
“It’s no doubt all a part of the government’s confused war on superannuation.”
Proxy firms issue voting recommendations on resolutions put at company meetings, including on environmental, social and governance issues, and board pay.
Changes proposed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Friday would mean the advisors have to give companies their research and advice at least five days before they give it to their clients.
Mr Jones said the treasurer was “getting huffy” about the proxy advice firm Ownership Matters, which has exposed issues with the government’s Jobseeker scheme.
The tougher regulations would also affect major superannuation firms, which collectively own about 20 per cent of the Australian share market, worth about $440 billion.
Under the proposed changes, super funds would have to show whether their shareholder votes are consistent with proxy advice, and “outline how they exercise independent judgment in the determination of their voting positions”.
“There is currently very limited regulation on how this proxy advice is formulated, provided, used and disclosed,” the treasurer’s office said in a statement issued late on Friday.
The powerful Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) says the changes are problematic and misunderstand how proxy advice actually works.
ACSI is one of four major proxy advisers in Australia, including CGI Glass Lewis, ISS Australia, and Ownership Matters.
“Most people are quite surprised and struggling to see the rationale,” ACSI chief executive Louise Davidson told AAP.
ACSI’s clients own on average 10 per cent of every ASX200 company, with more than $1 trillion in retirement assets.
Ms Davidson said it would not be appropriate for companies to receive ACSI’s advice before its own clients, and it could mean businesses attempting to influence ACSI’s independent advice.
She also pointed out “logistical issues” with the five-day rule, saying proxy advisors already work closely with companies in the small number of cases where their advice is likely to be contentious.
“The changes misunderstand how proxy advice works,” she said.
“It doesn’t take into account the fact that we are already talking to companies.”
ACSI has announced it will advise strike votes against company directors who fall short on managing climate change related risk.
The chief executive of the superannuation industry peak body, Dr Martin Fahy, said proxy advisors are cost-effective, and funds have obligations to deliver strong long-term returns.
“Proxy advisors are a cost effective way of enhancing board and management accountability in support of shareholder value,” Dr Fahy told AAP in a statement.
Treasury has opened consultation on the measures until June.