2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 2 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Companies refusing to repay JobKeeper payments after reporting huge profits; Proposed JobSeeker increase; the Aged Care Royal Commission report; allegations of sexual assault against a cabinet minister.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Let's introduce a warrior.
[‘The Warrior’ plays]
PAUL: We’ve got a water warrior, Helen Dalton. We’ve got a corruption warrior in Jodi McKay. But we’re going to anoint a brand new one today. Andrew Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G’day, Marcus. Terrific to be joining the ranks of your warriors.
PAUL: Alright. You are our #JobKeeperWarrior. How much Australian taxpayer dollars have you clawed back?
LEIGH: Well, we've gone past the $100 million mark, Marcus. We had healthcare company Healius handing back their JobKeeper last week and even the ports operator Qube handing back half of the JobKeeper that they didn't need. But we also had a week in which we saw the luxury car dealer AP Eagers report a profit of over $100 million, after receiving $130 million of JobKeeper. And we saw Harvey Norman turn up an extraordinary profit - $600 million - and still refuse to repay their JobKeeper. So a few firms have done the right thing, Marcus, but there's plenty out there that have gotten massive profits off the back of taxpayer subsidies and ought to hand back corporate welfare that they didn’t need.
PAUL: Corporate welfare. Why does Gerry Harvey from Harvey Norman require corporate welfare?
LEIGH: Beats me, Marcus. This is a bloke who's done extraordinarily well out of the pandemic, who has seen significantly increased sales in his stores, and yet had his head office and franchisees subsidised to the tune of some $22 million. He says that this is a ‘tiny amount’. Well, it might be tiny to a billionaire, but it's not tiny to most Australians.
PAUL: He did not say it was a tiny amount, did he?
LEIGH: He did, he did indeed. So it's time that he did the right thing, and if people are visiting Harvey Norman stores, then it's appropriate to politely mention to the manager that you think that Harvey Norman could better live up to its corporate ethics.
PAUL: Well, I think so. I mean, of course don't take it out on staff and all the rest of it, of course not. But at the end of the day, Harvey Norman is a very good advertising spender - not that he advertises on my program here in Sydney, but I know in our regions they spend a fair bit of money. But I mean, I'm just astounded that somebody like that would refer to $20 odd million of Australian taxpayers money as, you know, just a drop in the ocean. It's nothing. It's chicken feet. I mean, really? How out of touch is this bloke?
LEIGH: It’s extraordinary. I mean, this is the same Gerry Harvey who said that the pandemic wouldn't be a serious issue, and who has boasted at the same time as the pandemic was ripping through Australia about the fact that his freezer sales were up 300 per cent. I think many of his public statements have been pretty hurtful to regular Australians, and one way in which he could show that he understands what others have gone through is to recognise that at a time when we got a million people out of work, we oughtn’t be giving $22 million to Gerry Harvey’s head office and franchisees.
PAUL: Alright. It’s not just Gerry Harvey and Harvey Norman, there are others. Who else is in your sights at the moment, Andrew?
LEIGH: You look through some of the big companies I mentioned - AP Eagers before, they sell their Lamborghinis, Bentleys, other luxury cars. They've turned out a $64 million dividend to their shareholders, and yet they're subsidised by JobKeeper assistance at a time in which they're seeing increased profits. People were buying a lot of luxury cars last year. Good luck to AP Eagers on their significant profits, but they simply don't need a taxpayer hand out.
PAUL: No. Hand it back. Hand it back. JobKeeper was not designed to pay dividends and quite healthy bonuses to executives. That's not what it was designed for. That is a blatant misuse of taxpayer money.
LEIGH: That’s right, Marcus. It was called JobKeeper - not BonusKeeper, not DividendKeeper, not BillionaireKeeper. And yet corporate profits from company after company have gone up significantly. You look at COG Financial Services, mining company Lynas, building products company Capral - all increased their profits off the back of JobKeeper and should repay it.
PAUL: Something I mentioned just a couple of moments ago, a question without notice for you. I know you can handle it. The gas sector, touted by the Morrison Government as being you know one of the ways out of our COVID-19 induced recession. We've paid some $300 million in subsidies, taxpayer dollar subsidies to the industry, the gas industry. Scott Morrison said they were job makers - JobMaker, another spiffy little slogan - but do you know that Michael West has uncovered, from Michael West Media, that they have in fact shed jobs. Nearly 10 per cent of the workforce - 3000 workers in the gas industry have been stood down over the last six months and yet we propped them up with $300 million, Andrew.
LEIGH: That is pretty extraordinary. Michael certainly manages to uncover a range of interesting stories, and I think all sectors should be conscious right now of the need to be growing employment, not shrinking. It’s a time in which people are out there looking to work. For every vacancy, there's eight job seekers. And so employers need to be sensitive to the opportunities to put more people onto the books.
PAUL: What did you make of the $3 and 98 whatever cents it was - let's call it four bucks extra a day for the JobSeeker payment?
LEIGH: It’s a very modest amount at a time in which we've got a huge number of people out there relying on JobSeeker to make ends meet.
PAUL: It’s not a big increase. I mean, so many people are saying and I agree with them that the extra whatever it is per week basically accounts to next to nothing. It's a cup of coffee a day, if that.
LEIGH: It is and as one of my colleagues pointed out, when you're on JobSeeker, you're not out there buying takeaway coffees. You're looking to make every cent go as far as it can. JobSeeker is a pretty low payment relative to many other advanced countries.
PAUL: The Aged Care Royal Commission handed down its findings yesterday. A tone deaf Prime Minister appeared in front of one of the most expensive properties in Kirribilli to announce some really awful news, and then didn't take questions from the media because he decided that he’d only release it half an hour before his press conference. I don’t know where to go, Andrew. I mean, really, what's going on?
LEIGH: A shocking report, Marcus-
PAUL: But have we got this low? Just the whole way it was done yesterday as well. Is this where we're up to? You know, hide it from the media, don't allow them to peruse the documents so they can ask appropriate questions, and then hold the bloody press conference out the front of Kirribilli House while you're talking about the disadvantaged and downtrodden elderly in our country.
LEIGH: It's the 22nd report they've had showing that the aged sector is in crisis. The interim report was simply titled ‘Neglect’, which tells you all you need to know. This one had some chilling statistics – it talked about the level of assaults in residential aged care as being some 800 a week, sexual assaults almost 50 a week. I mean, this is just awful stuff, Marcus. So I really feel for the millions of Australians who are relying on the sector and the 300,000 Australians who work in aged care who were going into those care homes today, doing their level best but in many cases not being paid appropriately for the work. The Aged Care Royal Commission pointed to the importance of raising qualifications and standards in residential aged care, and that's got to be a priority. So I really hope the government doesn't continue their approach of cutting funding and sweeping the issue under the carpet, but that they do actually take this one seriously.
PAUL: Just quickly, I want to play you a little bit of what the Prime Minister's had to say in relation to allegations of sexual assault against one of his most senior colleagues. Here’s a little of ScoMo yesterday.
SCOTT MORRISON: Now, these are very distressing issues that have been raised. And as they, as there are other issues that have been raised in relation to other members and other cases. But the proper place for that to be dealt with is by the authorities, which are the police.
PAUL: Alright. Look, I'm no expert, legal expert. But I read out a statement earlier from the deceased woman's legal team, her lawyer, who was pretty scathing in his critique of the government, saying that they're most likely going to bury this and now that this poor woman has passed on there'll be nothing more said or done about it. What's your take?
LEIGH: The allegations certainly suggest that there could be an additional inquiry. And that might not take the nature of a police inquiry, but might be an inquiry by somebody like Vivienne Thom, who has conducted these sorts of inquiries for the government in the past. I wasn't sure why the Prime Minister referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police. They don't have jurisdiction. As I understand it, it’s a matter for the New South Wales Police. And there's precedents for ministers standing aside in those circumstances. Arthur Sinodinos stood aside while he was being investigated on the Australian Water Holdings issue. Neville Wran stood aside as Premier while he was under investigation for attempting to influence a court case. So that might well be appropriate in this case. But the Prime Minister needs to live by the words that he uttered when the issue of sexual assault in Parliament House came up, saying that we need to take this seriously. And if he does that, then we need a full investigation of what's gone on and potentially the minister should also stand aside during the course of that investigation.
PAUL: I might try to catch up with the boss before we knock off today at nine o’clock, but I mean, what would Labor's stance be on this? That the Minister should stand aside for now?
LEIGH: These things need to be appropriately investigated. Now I understand in the case of the allegations that have been referred by Sarah Henderson that that relates to allegations which were fully investigated by the police in the relevant state. I don't think that's true of the allegations being made against the current cabinet minister, and having a full investigation of those would be appropriate and would fit what the Prime Minister said in the case of the allegations made by Brittany Higgins. We in Parliament need to take these issues with the utmost seriousness, and that the standards that we uphold are those that we can expect to the broader community.
PAUL: Alright, mate. Good to have you on the program. And again, congratulations - you’re our latest anointee to the #WarriorClub. Our JobKeeper Warrior, well done.
LEIGH: Proud to be a warrior.
PAUL: Alright, mate. See ya. There he is. Andrew Leigh, our #JobKeeperWarrior, clawing back more than $100 million of taxpayer dollars.
[‘The Warrior’ plays]
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.