HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 15 FEBRUARY 2021
That this House:
(1) notes that the Jobkeeper program is the most expensive one-off program ever implemented by an Australian Government, estimated to cost around $100 billion—it has been effective in supporting jobs, but the unprecedented spending requires close scrutiny;
(2) acknowledges that millions of Australians were excluded from Jobkeeper, including short-term casuals, arts sector workers, and the entire university sector;
(3) recognises that:
(a) the Jobkeeper program is scheduled to be terminated at the end of March 2021, despite severe problems in many sectors and regions across Australia, and the warnings from economists that support should not be withdrawn prematurely;
(b) while many were left out of Jobkeeper, the program provided support to firms that:
(i) recorded record profits in 2020; and
(ii) paid executive bonuses; and
(c) the practice of paying executive bonuses by firms receiving Jobkeeper has been criticised by the Australian Taxation Office, the Business Council of Australia, former Liberal Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett and the Australian Labor Party, but not the Government; and
(4) calls on the Treasurer to make a statement to the Parliament no later than 25 February 2021 revealing how much Jobkeeper support was paid to firms that:
(a) saw their profits increase from 2019 to 2020; and
(b) paid executive bonuses.
When the pandemic hit, Labor were quick to call on the government to follow the lead of other countries and put in place a wage subsidy program that would save jobs. According to Treasury, JobKeeper has saved some 700,000 jobs since it was put into place.
But with unprecedented spending, unprecedented scrutiny should be required. It is not good enough that the government treats JobKeeper money like it is Liberal Party money and refuses to provide appropriate accountability to the Australian people for some of the reasonable concerns about JobKeeper. One of those is that firms have taken JobKeeper and used it to pay executive bonuses. The firms that have done this include Accent Group, IDP Education, Star Entertainment Group, Lendlease and Premier Investments. The practice has been criticised by Jeremy Hirschhorn from the Australia Taxation Office; by Jeff Kennett, the former Liberal premier; and by Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia. All of them recognise that it is not appropriate, if you are receiving taxpayer subsidies, to be paying your multimillion dollar CEOs additional bonuses—in the case of Premier Investments, a bonus of $2.5 million, more than most Australians will earn in a lifetime, paid out in a single bonus to a firm receiving JobKeeper.
And yet, extraordinarily, we haven't heard a word from the government on this issue. It has only been Labor that has been critical of firms paying executive bonuses. When we pointed out that firms that were receiving JobKeeper appeared to have seen their profits rise, the Prime Minister said I was engaging in ‘the politics of envy’. Prime Minister, this is not the politics of envy: this is the politics of fairness, the politics of decency.
Some firms have done the right thing. I'd give three cheers to Toyota Australia, Super Retail Group, Domino's and Iluka, and 1.5 cheers to Nick Scali, who have paid back half of the JobKeeper they have received. Yet other firms have failed to follow suit. It is ironic that at a time when debt is going to $1 trillion, it is Labor that's publicly calling on firms whose profits rose while receiving JobKeeper to pay the money back. You would imagine the Treasurer might be part of that call, but he is missing in action.
Today we saw another firm report increased profits, Seven West Media, whose largest shareholder is Kerry Stokes, reported an underlying profit up 25 per cent, having received around $35 million in JobKeeper. I called on the Treasurer to ask the House Economics Committee to initiate an inquiry into the extent to which JobKeeper went to firms that then became more profitable. I'm yet to receive a response to that letter to the Treasurer.
We've seen the hypocrisy from the Treasurer of the drip feed of information about certain aspects of the JobKeeper program. He is in The Australian today on page 11 providing a breakdown of JobKeeper numbers by time, region and industry.
Yet he won't disclose some of the issues that have been raised by sensible critics about the JobKeeper program.
The Taxation Office now has four Business Activity Statements and one income tax return for every business that received JobKeeper. The tax office must disclose the actual experience of businesses over this time, in aggregate. We're not asking for the details of every small business to be made transparent. But for businesses with a turnover of $1 billion that forecast a 50 per cent turnover drop from March to June 2020, the Australian public have a right to know how much JobKeeper went to those that did not experience that forecast drop in turnover. For businesses with a turnover below $1 billion that forecast a 30 per cent drop, how much JobKeeper went to those that did not in fact experience such a drop? How much JobKeeper has gone to firms that have paid executive bonuses? How much JobKeeper has gone to firms that paid out stonking dividends to billionaire shareholders?
Australians want the truth. The Morrison government has the receipts, so why won't they tell the taxpayers where the billions of dollars went?
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.