HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 9 FEBRUARY 2022
When Malcolm Turnbull was leader of the Liberal Party he introduced a debt truck, taking aim at what he said was Labor potentially taking government debt to $315 billion. Well, now we have a Liberal government that is taking gross government debt over a trillion dollars. If they were honest about it, they'd be launching their own debt road train. Of course, debt can be justified, as every household with a mortgage knows. But the question is: what do you get for that investment? What's happened here in Australia is that we have intergenerational debt without an intergenerational dividend. The most egregious example of that is the waste that the Liberals allowed to occur through the JobKeeper scheme.
The $89 billion JobKeeper scheme was needed for firms that were struggling. Many firms held onto staff who would otherwise have lost their jobs. But too much JobKeeper was sprayed around as if the recipients were those players in the game where a person's in a booth having to catch as many banknotes as they can in 30 seconds. We've had money going out the door to car dealers and to retailers whose revenues were going through the roof. We've had French, South African and Italian billionaires who've benefited from Australia's JobKeeper scheme. We've had JobKeeper going to the Australian Club, the men's-only club in Sydney that recently voted two to one to continue to exclude women as members. They picked up $2 million in JobKeeper while increasing their surplus.
We've had public universities excluded from the JobKeeper scheme three times, and yet we've seen private universities—Bond University, New York University's Sydney campus—receive taxpayer support through JobKeeper, despite having healthy asset bases. Public universities are literally being decimated. ANU and Curtin have lost more than a tenth of their staff, and yet it's only private universities that got JobKeeper. Public schools have struggled, which is why Labor has had to announce a policy for a national fund to enable schools to set up outdoor learning and improve air filtration in classrooms. And yet private schools received millions of dollars through JobKeeper while increasing their surpluses. We've seen schools such as the King's School, Wesley College and Brisbane Grammar increasing their surpluses while receiving taxpayer support through JobKeeper. The Treasurer recently spoke to his alma mater, Bialik College in Hawthorn, but I'm not sure he told the students there that the school received $6.2 million of JobKeeper support in the year that they made a $6.6 million surplus.
We've had Millennium Services Group, which provides security and cleaning services, getting $46 million in JobKeeper despite strong revenues and strong profits. We've had a range of billionaires—Marc Besen, James Packer, Nick Politis, Brett Blundy—getting JobKeeper fuelled dividend payments from companies whose earnings rose during the pandemic. We've had firms such as Star Entertainment, Accent Group, IDP Education that used JobKeeper to fund executive bonuses. Even the Australian tax office and the Business Council of Australia have spoken out against firms that took JobKeeper and paid executive bonuses. But the Morrison government won't say boo. They showered JobKeeper on profitable car dealers like they were making a Bond flick. It was an extraordinary amount of money that went out the door. As a result, on one estimate, the cost for saving a full-year job through the JobKeeper scheme was $140,000 to $204,000—well above the average wage. It was the same problem that afflicted Donald Trump's Paycheck Protection Program. A recent study co-authored by MIT's David Autor found that the cost per full-year job saved through the Trump program was something in the order of US$170,000 to US$257,000. In both cases, three-quarters of the benefit went to shareholders and just one quarter went to workers, which is why the profit share of national income exceeded 50 per cent last year for the first time in half a century.
With extraordinary chutzpah, the finance minister is in the Australian newspaper today saying that a good government needs 'to have the strength to say no'. They didn't have the strength to say no to the offshore billionaires. They didn't have the strength to say no to the men-only clubs' increase in their surpluses. They didn't have the strength to say no to the Aston Martin dealers that were taking JobKeeper while they were selling more Aston Martins.
This is a government of waste, rorts and mismanagement. It's why they won't introduce a national integrity commission, because they know it would go after their sports rorts, their car park rorts and their special slush funds—all of the rorts set in place since the Liberals came to office. The Liberals have increased Australia's debt, and yet we don't have the assets to pass on to the next generation that we would have if the money had been spent with wisdom and prudence—if the government, in the words of the finance minister, had had the 'strength to say no' to those who didn't need it.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra