6PR PERTH LIVE WITH OLIVER PETERSON
THURSDAY, 18 MARCH 2021
SUBJECT: Morrison Government’s JobKeeper waste exposed.
OLIVER PETERSON, HOST: More than 30 ASX listed companies have recorded higher profits in the last six months of last year than the previous year. That's after they received hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper subsidies. On the line, joining me live from Canberra this afternoon in Parliament House is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. Andrew, good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Oly. Great to be with you and your listeners.
PETERSON: You've been naming and shaming these companies which have profited from JobKeeper. Now we've got one fifth of the companies listed on the ASX, it turns out, grew their earnings through the pandemic with thanks to JobKeeper. That doesn't seem to pass the pub test, Andrew?
LEIGH: It certainly doesn't, does it? JobKeeper was meant to be helping out firms that would otherwise have hit the skids. And yet it has gone - a huge amount of it - has gone to firms whose profits were rising. You think of firms like Harvey Norman that had their best ever profit year in 2020. Those firms didn't need taxpayer handouts. Good luck to them on their profitability, but the idea that JobKeeper - a program designed to keep battlers in work - should be funding billionaires buying their next racehorse is just an abomination.
PETERSON: So these 30 companies on the ASX, how many of them actually paid it back?
LEIGH: Very few. Toyota, Domino's, Iluka are a few of the firms that have paid back. But Harvey Norman's refused to, Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments has refused to hand the money back. Accent Group won’t hand it back. A whole lot of these firms which have enjoyed significant profits, particularly in the retail space, are hanging on to the cash. Labor strongly supports profitable firms and we're delighted when they do well, but the fact is they don't need corporate welfare. At a time when we've got a million people out of work, debt headed towards a trillion dollars and JobKeeper about to cut off which could throw a quarter of million people into unemployment, the last thing we should be doing is subsidising billionaire shareholders and millionaires CEOs.
PETERSON: How much money are we talking about that should be given back, Andrew, roughly speaking?
LEIGH: If we extend this right across the economy, Oly, we could be looking at something in the order of $10 to $20 billion. That's hundreds of dollars for every one of your listeners in JobKeeper paid out to firms whose profits rose. We can only see the listed firms - which is a small share of the total - because Josh Frydenberg won't release information on the entire program. He won't even tell us which of the firms that forecast a downturn in order to get JobKeeper actually experienced that downturn. He won't tell us how many firms got JobKeeper and then grew their profits. I asked the Prime Minister today how much JobKeeper went to paying executive bonuses. He wouldn't answer the question.
PETERSON: Is the pressure building on these companies, do you reckon, Andrew? Do you reckon that they will ultimately have their arm twisted and they'll pay it back? Because we are talking here about everybody's money. It's the taxpayers of the country, of this state, of this city who have forked out for JobKeeper. And if we've got 30 at least ASX listed companies recording higher profits in the last six months or last year compared to the previous year, it doesn't seem to make too much sense.
LEIGH: No sense at all. And they should pay it back based not just on my values, but on their own values. You go to the websites of these companies, you look at their corporate social responsibility statements and they all have these motherhood words about how it's important to contribute to the community and to give back to the community. Well, here's their chance to give back to the community - hand back to the taxpayer money you didn't need. You don't need the corporate welfare. Plenty of other people do need support - people in the tourism industry and the arts industry and higher education. I spoke to a travel agent in my electorate the other day who might have to let two-thirds of his staff go at the end of March when JobKeeper gets suddenly cut off. It doesn't have to be that way. We can make a set of smarter decisions that doesn't see corporate welfare going to billionaires, but instead sees support provided to people who are suffering through the pandemic.
PETERSON: Andrew, thank you for your time.
LEIGH: Always a pleasure.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.