2CC CANBERRA LIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2021
LEON DELANEY, HOST: The Parliamentary Budget Office has revealed Australian businesses that actually increased turnover claimed almost $20 billion all together across the nation, and here in the ACT the figure was almost $200 million. Andrew Barr yesterday described it as one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer money in history, and I think that view is shared by the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities and the local member for Fenner, Dr Andrew Leigh. Would I be correct?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Absolutely, Leon. Good to be with you and your listeners, and yes, it's $20 billion nationally, $197 million here in the ACT, going to firms whose revenues were going up during the pandemic rather than down.
Labor called for JobKeeper. We wanted it to work. We wanted the Government to target it at people who needed it, but instead they sprayed money around like a drunkard with a firehose, and it wasn't Liberal Party money they were spraying around - that was taxpayer money. We've seen millions of dollars going to Louis Vuitton and thereby enriching Bernard Arnault, who was at one point during this year the richest man in the world. We've seen JobKeeper going to OPSM, whose majority owner is Leonardo del Vecchio, an Italian billionaire who's the second richest man in Italy.
DELANEY: I interrupt, because you've already mentioned all these people to me before, but what about here in the ACT? Do we know which businesses received the money that didn't really need it?
LEIGH: We don't. We don't have the identities of those firms because JobKeeper didn't come with any transparency. If you're in Britain, Canada, New Zealand or the United States, there was a public register listing every single firm that got wage subsidies. Here in Australia, Josh Frydenberg put in place no transparency around it. What we know comes out of independent organizations such as the stock exchange or the charities regulator. That means that our money has gone to firms whose earnings were rising, and we don't know who they are.
DELANEY: Well, if we don't know who they are, how do we know they haven't done the right thing, like so many big companies, and actually given the money back?
LEIGH: We know the total money we’re getting back is less than a quarter of one per cent, a fraction of what it is in New Zealand, where around five per cent has been repaid. Transparency encourages accountability, Leon, and encourages firms to look to whether what they're doing is consistent with their corporate social responsibility statement. Of course, no one's going to force firms to pay back the money. That horse has bolted. But it would be good if the Treasurer was politely asking those firms that didn't need money to hand it back so it could be used to support individuals and firms who do need support.
DELANEY: OK, there's a move, apparently, to refer the Tax Commissioner, Chris Jordan, to the Privileges Committee for, and I quote, 'disobeying the Senate'. Why are the senators unhappy with the Tax Commissioner?
LEIGH: I wish it hadn't had to come to this. Ultimately, the Government should have put in place transparency, and it should have agreed to the call from Labor to disclose firms with turnover above $10 million who got JobKeeper. That's a reasonable request. It would still see less transparency here than in other advanced countries, but it would ensure that Australians had some oversight of where our money went. But because the Government has been so stubborn, the Senate is now in a battle with the Tax Commissioner to try and get that information disclosed - again, not for small businesses, but for large ones that got JobKeeper.
DELANEY: Apparently the Senate asked the Tax Commissioner to provide the information, and apparently the Tax Commissioner refused on the grounds of privacy. Isn't he just doing his job?
LEIGH: Our beef is not with the Tax Commissioner, Leon. On our beef is with the Government that introduced a scheme that had no transparency around it. Now, Leon, I'm not sure if you can hear those bells ringing, but-
DELANEY: -Is it that time already?
LEIGH: They do toll for thee. That's a division in the House of Representatives, so I'm going to have to cut the interview short and go down and do my democratic duty.
DELANEY: That's quite alright. Have a lovely afternoon.
LEIGH: Thank you. Always good to speak with you. Take care.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.