6PR MORNINGS WITH LIAM BARTLETT
TUESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2021
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the federal opposition Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities. He's been doing a lot of the front running on this, a lot of the research work and the back of house details. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Liam. Great to be with you.
BARTLETT: And you, too. You're in Canberra at the moment, but you've been through some of this new analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Office.
LEIGH: Absolutely. JobKeeper was an important program, but very badly implemented, as you know better than most, Liam. A program that was meant to be about keeping battlers in jobs ended up delivering too much cash through to billionaire shareholders. We now know, thanks to this new analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Office, that there was some $20 billion delivered to firms whose revenues went up rather than down, and in Western Australia that's $1.6 billion going to firms who had a better 2020 than 2019. Now, we wanted JobKeeper to succeed, Liam. Labor was constructive and worked collaboratively with the Government to get it in place, but the leakage of money to firms that didn't need it is unprecedented in the history of the Commonwealth.
BARTLETT: As you know, in the past few months we've been talking about this but we haven't had a state-by-state breakdown in all that time. The Budget Office has delivered those sort of details have they? Is that why we can all of a sudden see exactly what happened just here in WA?
LEIGH: That's right, and it's showing a huge amount of money, particularly in that second quarter of the program - almost $1 billion in that second quarter of the program went to WA firms with rising revenue. Nobody begrudges JobKeeper going to firms who were suffering through the pandemic, but the real problem came when JobKeeper was used to pad corporate profits, paid out to executive bonuses and shareholder dividends at a time in which Australians were tightening their belts. The result was that there was less available to support struggling small businesses, because too much went to big firms with rising revenues.
BARTLETT: The other thing about this new figure, Andrew, is it's really a startling - just from a West Aussie perspective, if I can put it that way - because our Premier, and all our listeners know this, our Premier was oft quoted as saying how well we were doing through the entire pandemic, and then to find out this morning that businesses whose turnover increased still managed to get $1.6 billion between them on the taxpayer purse is just outrageous.
LEIGH: It is, and nearly $100 million of that was going to firms whose turnover was above $100 million. These are very big firms getting taxpayer subsidies at a time when real wages for the typical Australian are falling. The cost of JobKeeper overpayments, the amount of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising revenues, is around $2,000 for every Australian household. I don't know about your household, Liam, but if we sat down together tonight and said 'Hey kids, what do you want to spend some money on?', we'd talk about making some repairs around the home, we might think about a holiday, we might think about a charity we'd support, but I don't think any of us would say 'Let's take $2,000, go down the street and give it to a firm with rising revenues.' Well done to those firms who managed to increase their turnover during the pandemic, but they didn't need corporate welfare.
BARTLETT: They certainly did not. I'm just having a look through some of this data that has come from the Budgetary Office. A lot of it's redacted, so we still can't say this morning, we can't discuss names, can we? There's no names attached to this in terms of businesses, companies?
LEIGH: Well, that's the real problem with the way in which the Government ran the scheme, Liam. If you're in Britain, Canada, New Zealand or the United States, then the wage subsidy program was fully transparent. There was a public website on which every firm getting the wage subsidy was reported. In Australia, the Government had no transparency. The only organisations who we're able to see come through reporting by different agencies. The share market requires listed firms to report, and charities need to report to the charities regulator. Labor has been calling for the disclosure of JobKeeper received by firms with a turnover above $10 million. Not the smallest businesses, but we think it's important for those medium and large businesses to have their JobKeeper receipt reported to the taxpayer so we know how our money was spent.
BARTLETT: The other thing, Andrew, and we've spoken about this before, but in the past we've used a figure of $13 billion. In all the reports I've seen, we've numbered 157,000 businesses whose turnover increased not decreased, 157,000 businesses identified, sucking up $13 billion in wasted JobKeeper, but this report has a figure of $19.7 billion. Is that a new figure? Is that a new estimate?
LEIGH: It is, Liam, and you're very astute to pick up on that change. What happened was the $13 billion figure was just covering the first two quarters of the scheme, the first half of the year-long scheme. What we've now got is data for the whole scheme, updated, and that's pointing to $19.7 billion over the course of the whole scheme. It is unprecedented waste from a program which should have been much better targeted, a program which did save jobs, but at too high a price, because too much of the money ended up going to firms with rising turnover. Too much of it went off to offshore billionaire shareholders. There's Italian, French, and South African billionaires who benefited directly because they have shareholdings in Australian firms that got JobKeeper despite rising revenues.
BARTLETT: OK, well, that's a little bit depressing, I've got to say. So, $89.9 billion overall, so we can safely say, let me just paraphrase the whole thing for you, and correct me where I'm wrong. $70 billion was money well spent. That went to staff, businesses, companies, employees, wages, things that were genuinely in need. $70 billion well spent, but $19.7 billion wasted on people that didn't need it.
LEIGH: That's right. Every time the Coalition is asked about the waste, they immediately pivot to talking about the firms that got JobKeeper and needed it. Well, no one has ever said that every dollar spent from JobKeeper was wasted, but what Labor has consistently said is that the JobKeeper program could have been much better targeted. As you highlighted in that really important 60 Minutes episode, the Coalition knew in mid-2020 that billions of dollars were going out the door to firms with rising revenues, and yet they did nothing to change it. As a result, Australians ended up paying far more in JobKeeper than we needed to. The cost per job saved for a full year job is somewhere between $140,000-$204,000, which is well above the average Australian wage. The cost of the JobKeeper program badly blew out, and there is far, far too little available to help struggling Australians.
BARTLETT: Yeah, that's just it. It is just extraordinary. All right, well, we'll keep talking about it. I mean, you know, that proves again why you need a strong opposition: Labor, Liberal or Greens or Martians. You have to have a strong opposition to keep this stuff in the public eye. It's so important.
LEIGH: Absolutely, Leon. We'll continue pursuing it. Thank you for the thoughtful way in which you've engaged with this and held the Government to account. The Liberals’ claims to be superior economic managers has been blown sky high by the JobKeeper overpayment scandal.
BARTLETT: All right, Andrew, thanks for your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Liam.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra