Fantasy to claim Australia is a corporation

What was Claimed

The Australian government is a corporation.

Our Verdict

False. The myth originates from the sovereign citizen movement.

A social media video claims Australia is a corporation.

The video asserts the country’s corporate status means the Australian government cannot negotiate a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This is false. While governments use forms of financial registration for operational purposes, they are not privately owned corporations. Experts told AAP FactCheck the claim is baseless. 

The video (archived here) was posted to streaming platform Rumble in early 2023 and has been reposted on TikTok and Facebook.

"We are saying no to a voice to parliament and we are saying no to a treaty with a corporation, be it the Northern Territory government or the Australian government," a man says (video mark 13sec).

"They are corporations. Corporations cannot treaty with sovereign tribal people."

A screenshot of the video from Facebook.
The video's claims have no credibility.

Corporation claims are usually associated with the sovereign citizen movement. Among the supposed evidence often put forward is that the government uses Australian Business Numbers (ABNs) and has also registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

It's true that some government entities use ABNs when undertaking certain operational activities.The Commonwealth of Australia has also registered with the SEC, the body that regulates US financial markets, for the purpose of selling bonds to American buyers.

However, neither of these factors makes Australia a corporation.

This previous AAP FactCheck debunk explained the government's SEC registration is a routine process governments go through when selling bonds and other financial instruments to US buyers.

In a separate previous debunk, University of Sydney Professor Emerita of constitutional law Anne Twomey, said this document in particular excites sovereign citizens with regard to the claim.

“If you read the document, there is nothing in there that classifies the Commonwealth of Australia as a corporation," Prof Twomey said.  "On the contrary, it was registered as a foreign government.”

A digital market board (file image)
All governments must register with the SEC to sell bonds to US investors.

Many government departments and agencies also have ABNs.

An Australian Business Register search using the keywords ‘government’ or ‘department’ returns the details of dozens of federal and state government entities including the Australian Government Solicitor, Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Western Australia’s Department of Education.

States and territory government entities also have ABNs such as, for example, the Northern Territory government and the South Australian government.

However, the business registration of government organisations is a routine process and does not indicate anything unusual about their legal status.

Adam Steen, an accounting academic at Deakin University, said government entities use an ABN for operational activities such as ordering and invoicing, claiming goods and services tax (GST) credits or registering an Australian government domain name.

The practice is "not very controversial but pretty practicable", Dr Steen told AAP FactCheck.

The Northern Territory’s Department of Treasury and Finance similarly told AAP FactCheck in an email that government departments and agencies required ABNs "for various legislative requirements including Goods and Services Tax, Fuel Tax Credits and PAYG withholding".

A receipt showing GST (file image)
Government departments and agencies need ABNs to claim GST credits.

Australian tax law states that a government entity is entitled to register for an ABN "as if it were an entity carrying on an enterprise in Australia".

Legislation from 1973 is also used as supposed evidence that Australia is a corporation. AAP FactCheck has debunked that claim here.

Additionally, the Corporations Act specifically states public authorities are not corporations.

Section 57A of the Act states a corporation can be “a company”, “a body corporate” or “an unincorporated body that … may sue or be sued, or may hold property” but not “an exempt public authority”.

The Act defines an exempt public body as being a public authority, or a Commonwealth, state or territory agency.

Harry Hobbs, a constitutional law academic with expertise in Indigenous treaty-making, told AAP FactCheck the video's claim was baseless.

Dr Hobbs said he knew of no reason why a First Nations treaty would be impeded by the fact various Australian government entities had ABNs and the federal government has previously registered with the SEC.

"This is a conspiracy theory that preys on people who don’t know about this stuff," he said.

The Verdict

The claim Australia is a corporation is false. 

Some government entities have registered ABNs, and the Commonwealth of Australia has registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

However, those registrations were made for routine operational reasons and do not make Australia a corporation.

False - The claim is inaccurate.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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