ABC RADIO MELBOURNE MORNINGS WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI
MONDAY, 9 AUGUST 2021
SUBJECTS: The Government’s JobKeeper failings
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: A quick update to a story that we covered off a few weeks ago now, and that was the payment of JobKeeper to a number of high-profile and less well-known companies that still enjoyed rising profits during that time, and so therefore, basically, were just able to put JobKeeper in the bank. It didn't just involve high-profile companies like Harvey Norman and Best & Less but many others as well. Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities has been really banging the drum on this, but it seems that his own party might be letting him down in this regard. Andrew Leigh, good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Virginia. How are you?
TRIOLI: I'm well, thank you. Because an amendment's been introduced by the independent Senator Rex Patrick which would require all companies then to disclose, there'll be a transparency amendment so we'd know what they received, if they then went on to enjoy rising profits, but looks like looks like your party is backing down from supporting that amendment. Is that right?
LEIGH: Virginia, we're very strongly supportive of getting quick money out the door to businesses who are suffering lockdown, and also of providing more transparency around the JobKeeper scheme. A responsible party of government can't play games. The question is whether or not you would hold up this important measure that provides support to those in lockdown in order to make a political point around transparency. We're not willing to do that. We certainly agree with the point. I've been out there speaking about JobKeeper rorts for much longer than Rex Patrick, but as a responsible party of government we simply can't in good conscience hold up that support. These people have been hurting too much. They've been hurt by the Government's botched vaccination rollouts, and by the inadequate support that's been provided to them. We need that money out the door as quick as possible.
TRIOLI: Is it really an either/or? Can't you get that transparency in there that, as you say, you have been stridently calling for for some time, without it turning into a long slowdown of money rolling out the door?
LEIGH: I wish that was the case. I wish we had a government that was committed to transparency. As Fiona [McLeod] has so articulately pointed out, this is a government that fought transparency at every turn. They don't want an anti-corruption commission. They don't want transparency over the JobKeeper scheme. There'll be other opportunities to raise this. There'll be other opportunities to push this forward, but we're not going to prevent workers and businesses in lockdown getting support in order to make this important political point.
TRIOLI: But if you joined with enough in the Senate, then it wouldn't be slowed down. You get the transparency amendment put through, and you get it pushed through the Senate and there you go.
LEIGH: Well, ‘there you go’ in the Senate, but you don't go in the House. The challenge is that the Labor Party doesn't control the numbers in the House.
TRIOLI: We get that.
LEIGH: This amendment has the support of the Senate. It doesn't have the support of the House, and in a situation in which the houses are deadlocked my fear is that the Government would continue its practice over the last year and just delay support for vulnerable people who need it right now. This is-
TRIOLI: -Hang on, look, it's not for me to school you on politics, but it's a game of political chicken now, isn't it, a Andrew Leigh, and they're not very well going to slow down or abandon their own legislation that actually allows businesses to receive this all-important support during rolling lockdowns.
LEIGH: Virginia, it might be a game to the Government. It might be a game to Rex Patrick. It's certainly not a game to the Labor Party.
TRIOLI: What I'm saying is the political reality is that someone will blink first.
LEIGH: They this is not a game. We're talking about the livelihoods of Australians. Labor will always do what is in the national interest, and here the national interest lies in making sure we get money out the door. My campaign on transparency will continue unabated, as it has before Rex's involvement, and will continue to do so now. We've got a lot of information around the publicly listed firms. Entities such as Harvey Norman and Best & Less that you mentioned, but much less around private entities. I've written to all the large private entities, all the overseas-listed firms asking, for details about JobKeeper. I've also been scouring their accounts to try and identify those organisations-
TRIOLI: -And it's an amazing bit of work that's been done, and of course also supported by the Audit Office as well, but here's the - I'm sorry, the Parliamentary Budget Office, after your request - but the reality is, isn't it, Andrew Leigh, that without some material legislative change, you say you'll continue your work, your work, in effect, won't have much meaning?
LEIGH: Well, there's a range of different ways we can follow this through. Certainly the Parliamentary Budget Office, as you said, managed to provide me with some useful information suggesting around $13 billion of JobKeeper went to firms with rising earnings. We're also getting more information around some of those elite private schools such as Wesley College, which saw its earnings rise during the pandemic and yet took JobKeeper. We've got organisations like the Australian Club in Sydney, a men's-only club that got JobKeeper. So, there's other sources of transparency. We will continue to push the Government to have a transparency register, as we did in 2013 in putting in place that tax transparency register.
TRIOLI: Andrew, I have to go, I'm sorry, because I've got John Kendall waiting, but thanks for talking today.
LEIGH: Absolutely, Virgina. Thanks for the conversation.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra