HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 15 MARCH 2021
At the outset, I thank the member for Solomon for agreeing to trade places in this debate so I can perform my House chamber duty.
It is a pleasure to follow the member for Goldstein, who was attacked over the weekend by his former leader, Malcolm Turnbull, who described the member for Goldstein's campaign for young Australians to be poorer in retirement so they can overheat the housing market as 'the craziest idea I've heard'. He went on to say:
Isn’t it … somewhat patronising for people who benefit from 15.4 per cent super to say that working people should settle for 9.5 ...
This motion goes to the weakness of the Australian economy and the rise in inequality. The member for Melbourne refers to an increase in the wealth of Australia's billionaires by 25 per cent. It turns out, member for Melbourne, that the problem is worse than that. Bloomberg has a billionaire tracker which provides a daily update of the aggregate wealth of billionaires across different countries. I checked it on the way to the chamber. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, in the 12 months to 14 March 2021, the wealth of Australia's billionaires rose 76.8 per cent.
Australia's billionaires have had a terrific pandemic. At least a dozen of them have benefited from the government's JobKeeper program. As a result of holding significant stakes in firms that received JobKeeper, they increased their profit and then paid out dividends. Among them are Gerry Harvey and Solomon Lew. In the case of Gerry Harvey, he doesn't think he should pay back the $3.6 million that his head office received, because it's 'a tiny amount'. This 'tiny amount' is larger than the amount that most Australians will earn in a lifetime. That's how out of touch Gerry Harvey is. He then went on to say that he will pay more than that amount of money in increased tax. I have news for Gerry Harvey and other highly profitable JobKeeper recipients who are refusing to repay the taxpayer: that's how the corporate tax system works. When you make a bigger profit, you pay more tax.
But that doesn't mean you get to keep corporate welfare that you never needed.
We have seen across Australia a raft of firms receiving JobKeeper that they didn't need. Shoe seller Accent received $45 million in JobKeeper, paid its CEO a $1.3 million bonus and paid $65 million in dividends—with $11 million going to Brett Blundy, an Australian billionaire who's recently taken up residence in Monaco. The Accent Group has seen a 60 per cent increase in profits on pre-COVID levels. K2 Asset Management has doubled its profits yet got half a million dollars in JobKeeper.
You can only imagine what Prime Minister Morrison would be saying if a welfare recipient had received $500,000 they didn't need. The Prime Minister, who designed and oversaw robodebt, would be chasing after that welfare recipient and demanding the money back. After all, that's what the government did demanding money back, through an illegal scheme, from people who didn't owe the government anything. Yet when it comes to large firms receiving JobKeeper, the government has refused to ask for the money back. There are some firms that have done the right thing. Adelaide Brighton Cement is one of those who've paid back JobKeeper it didn't need. But too many firms have failed to do the right thing. I've urged the Auditor-General to look into the problems, and he's now said he'll launch an inquiry, but we need corporate Australia to step up and do the right thing. We need corporate Australia to live up to their own corporate social responsibility statements.
When the Prime Minister is challenged on this, he uses the oldest cliche in the right-wing handbook. He calls it 'the politics of envy'. Prime Minister, this isn't about envy. This is about fairness. This is about the fact that at the end of this month you're going to cut off Cairns tourism businesses that desperately need JobKeeper from that lifeline. Jeff Borland says up to 250,000 jobs could go. If the government took a firmer line with firms getting JobKeeper who don't need it, then firms that do need it could get the benefit when they need it.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.