MONDAY, 9 AUGUST 2021
SUBJECTS: The Government’s JobKeeper failures.
CARRIE BICKMORE, HOST: Labor MP Andrew Leigh has been naming and shaming companies that profited off JobKeeper and he joins us now. Andrew, you've been pushing for transparency and accountability for big businesses receiving JobKeeper or other government support. Why did Labor back down?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Carrie, we need to make sure we prioritize support for people in lockdown right now. There's no way Labor was going to hold up money going out the door for people who are suffering under the weight of lockdown. No-one's been stronger on transparency around JobKeeper than me. It was a great program poorly implemented. Around 15 per cent of the money seems to have gone to firms whose earnings went up rather than down, like Best & Less, Harvey Norman, Premier Investments and Accent Group. Some of them used it to pay executive bonuses. We need to know more about this scheme, because it wasn't Liberal Party money they were spending, it was taxpayer money.
STEVE PRICE, HOST: Now that the legislation's fallen over, what's your plan now, you just continue on naming and shaming, you know, in a one man campaign on this?
LEIGH: I'll certainly be doing that. It's not just the firms, it's also organisations like the men's-only Australian Club, the Royal Sydney Golf Club, and The Kings School that have received JobKeeper and seeing their earnings rise. It's the biggest one-off program the Australian Government has ever run, and if the wastage really is as high as the initial reports look like, we could be talking about as much as $1,000 for every Australian adult - more than the Commonwealth Government spends on public schools in a year.
WALEED ALY, HOST: So just to be clear, though, you've abandoned any hopes of passing specific legislation of the kind that you were trying to pass on this just now?
LEIGH: Not at all, Waleed. I think we're going to be able to make progress on transparency, but what Labor wasn't going to do was to stop money going out the door to people in Sydney and Melbourne who are under lockdown in order to make a political point -
ALY: - I appreciate that point, so there might be more legislation coming then, from what you say, I gather, so we keep an eye out for that?
LEIGH: Absolutely. The two things don't have to be tied together. We can get money to vulnerable people and have transparency.
ALY: Just on the money that is going out, the Government's payment system that's not JobKeeper but kind of is a bit like JobKeeper, one of the main differences is that the money goes directly to the employees, it goes directly to the worker rather than going to the business who then gives the money on. Given what you've seen with JobKeeper and the criticism that you have on it, would you agree that that's a better model?
LEIGH: The challenge is that then you don't maintain the link between worker and firm. What you had with JobKeeper was a way of keeping unemployment lower than it would have otherwise been.
ALY: But it means you can't rort it, right? I mean, it means you couldn't be just keeping that money and making your own profits because you don't get the money in the first place - the worker gets it.
LEIGH: You make a good point, but the other challenge is that if you don't have a wage subsidy scheme, then you can break that employment relationship. To use a relationship analogy, it is easier to break employment relationships than to make them. It's important that we learn the lessons of JobKeeper 1.0 - don't pay it to firms whose earnings are going up - but don't over-learn the lessons. Don't just throw out the whole idea of a scheme that encourages firms to keep their workers on through a downturn.
BICKMORE: Alright, Andrew, we'll leave it there, but thanks so much for your time tonight.
LEIGH: Thanks everyone.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra