HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 31 AUGUST 2021
Seventy-year-old Jan Raabe is a pensioner in Frankston who works as a part-time teacher. Because her employer got JobKeeper, Jan received too much in her age pension. She's now repaying at a rate of $15 a fortnight because that's all she can afford out of her part pension. Still, she's repaying more than billionaires Brett Blundy, Marc Besen, James Packer, Nick Politis and Len Ainsworth combined. They're just some of the nearly a dozen billionaires who benefited from JobKeeper.
Jan is one of more than 11,000 Centrelink recipients who've gotten letters from the government asking them to repay their social security benefits because of JobKeeper receipt. This is a government that's writing letters to people in lockdown asking them to repay historic childcare subsidies.
Jan is beside herself with happiness, for today Gerry Harvey has announced that he's going to pay back $6 million of JobKeeper. But let's be very clear about why Gerry Harvey is repaying. He's not doing it out of the pure goodness of his heart, wanting to give something back—we know Gerry Harvey's views on charity. He's doing it because of public pressure from people like Jan.
Australians work hard, and they need a government that's going to work as hard as they do. They need a government that will understand that every dollar raised from taxpayers is a dollar raised from the sweat of regular Australians -- and that the role of governments is something sacred. Governments, in managing the public finances, operate in a position of trust with the broader community. A good government sits down in the Expenditure Review Committee and sweats out a decision on how to spend $13 million of taxpayer money.
But here we're not talking about $13 million; we're talking about $13 billion, a thousand times more. This was like a welfare scheme for lottery winners. This is a government which gave $13 billion not to firms whose earnings were falling a little bit but to firms whose revenues were rising. Former COSBOA head Peter Strong said it was ‘pretty close to theft’. Some of those firms even paid executive bonuses, a practice criticised by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Banking Association and the Australian tax office, but not criticised at all by the Morrison government.
We have AP Eagers, that got $130 million in JobKeeper and made over $200 million in profit last year and in the first half of this year alone another $200 million. There's jewellery seller Lovisa, part owned by Monaco-based billionaire Brett Blundy, that got $23 million in JobKeeper despite sparkling profits. There's Monash IVF, that pocketed $10 million in JobKeeper and admits that about half of that went straight to the profit bottom line. They've just given a big bonus to the CEO, almost doubling his annual remuneration to $1 million. Luxury home seller McGrath just saw a 38 per cent increase in revenue and got $4 million in JobKeeper that it's refusing to pay back.
The board of Cochlear has boosted executive remuneration by 64 per cent at a time when wages for ordinary Australians are going backwards in real terms, and yet they're refusing to repay the $10 million of JobKeeper that they banked in 2020. Lifestyle Communities just doubled its profits to $91 million and is refusing to repay the $2 million in JobKeeper that it very clearly didn't need. There's an investment bank, Moelis, that got $3 million in JobKeeper and paid $5 million in executive bonuses. It may just be me, but I don't remember the Treasurer, at the time when the JobKeeper bill was going through parliament, standing at that dispatch box saying, this would be great for investment bankers because they'll be able to increase their executive bonuses.
There's Tabcorp, that made a $269 million profit, paid a $1.5 million bonus to the CEO and still won't repay its $12 million in JobKeeper. ARB, which makes accessories for cars, just doubled its profits but won't repay the $10 million in JobKeeper it clearly didn't need. Best&Less got $42 million in JobKeeper despite its profits rising and paying executive bonuses. The Australian Golf Club got $1.5 million in JobKeeper from the Liberals. They must be thinking to themselves, 'We scored a hole in one with the Morrison government!'
Then there's Accent Group, which got JobKeeper despite a 60 per cent rise in profits and paid a $1.3 million bonus to their CEO. When they were asked to repay earlier this year, they said no; they'd hold onto the JobKeeper, because they might need it for future lockdowns. The lockdowns came, and they stood down their Sydney staff. Premier Investments did much the same. They got more than $100 million in JobKeeper and barely paid any of it back. They said that they would not repay all the JobKeeper, because they were holding onto it for paying staff in future lockdowns. And yet they stood their staff down.
Then there are the private schools. Brisbane Grammar School got $3 million in JobKeeper, gave a pay rise to the headmaster and increased its fee revenue. The King's School got $7 million in JobKeeper, despite the fact it is sitting on massive assets. We've had Wesley College also receive substantial JobKeeper from the government. During the pandemic, the government set up a $25 million fund for public schools. Almost all of that has gone unspent. Meanwhile, just three independent schools—Brisbane Grammar School, the King's School and Wesley College—between them took home $25 million in JobKeeper.
Australia's biggest pastoral landholder, AACo, increased its profit fourfold last year, yet got $7 million in JobKeeper. Peter Warren, the car dealer, saw its earnings go up 20 per cent in June 2020, yet still put $14 million in JobKeeper into the boot and drove away. There's the Australian Club in Sydney. They're an elite club that doesn't allow women members. In fact, they just recently voted two to one against allowing women members (Hi, guys -- it's 2021!) They doubled their surplus last year, yet got $2 million in JobKeeper from the Morrison government. There's the donga maker, Fleetwood, which saw its profits grow 35 per cent last year, yet got $3 million in JobKeeper. Flower seller, Lynch Group, saw a 13-fold increase in its profits, got $3 million in JobKeeper.
Time doesn't permit me to go through the many other examples of profitable firms that got JobKeeper. The fact is that the government is fighting for secrecy at a time when Gerry Harvey has given us the best reason why we need transparency. This is like one of those game shows with a money booth where you grab as many dollars as you can in 30 seconds. That's what corporate Australia saw under the Morrison government.
The Liberals will come in here and say two things. First, they'll say, 'You voted for it.' The fact is that in mid-2020 they knew that 15 per cent of the money was going to firms with rising revenue, and they did nothing. Second, they'll say it created 700,000 jobs. But how did you create jobs by giving money to firms with rising revenues? Bob Breunig at the Australian National University estimates each full-time, full-year job costs taxpayers $140,000 to $204,000. That's well above the average wage.
Joe Aston and Myriam Robin have belled the cat on this, referring to the ‘epic leakage’ from the JobKeeper program and describing the Treasurer as 'transactional, tactical, erratic, profligate and ultimately empty' and 'lighter than helium'. This is the Financial Review, the nation's financial paper of record, and this is what they are saying about the Treasurer on their back page. Small business people tell me they are shocked by the way in which the Morrison government managed JobKeeper. We can imagine the billionaire shareholders and millionaire CEOs who benefited from JobKeeper saying, 'You only get one Morrison government in your lifetime, and we just got ours.'
At the next election, voters will hold the government to account on their two big failures: their failure on vaccines, the race which stopped a nation; and their failure on the $13 billion of JobKeeper, the waste that stopped a nation. When it comes to taking responsibility, Helium Man and his boss have floated away. Helium Man can't manage money. They can't manage the nation's vaccine rollout. They do not deserve the sacred public trust that comes with public office.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra