SKY NEWS FIRST EDITION
THURSDAY, 18 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s JobKeeper waste exposed; Tax cuts; the Morrison Government’s poor plans for workers.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: There are fresh concerns this morning, one fifth of JobKeeper payments made to major listed companies in the second quarter of 2020 went to firms who grew their profits during the pandemic. Joining me live now is Labor MP, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Pleasure, Pete.
STEFANOVIC: So what is your issue with this?
LEIGH: JobKeeper was meant to keep battlers in jobs, not to have money flowing to billionaire shareholders to buy the next yacht. And this new report shows really troubling findings about the extent to which JobKeeper was going to firms whose profits were rising. Think of firms like Harvey Norman or Premier Investments, big retailers who saw the best ever sales in 2020. Firms like that didn't need JobKeeper, and this report suggests that about a fifth of the money could have been going to firms with rising profits. We only know about the listed companies because the government hasn't released the rest of the information. But if this is true across the entire program, Pete, that means more than $10 billion was wasted. That's money that could extend JobKeeper for another six months right now.
STEFANOVIC: But companies are under no obligation to return these funds. Some of them have, a lot of them have in fact. So they don't, they didn't have to do this.
LEIGH: The program could have been designed better to ensure that profitable firms weren't taking so much of the money. Half of the listed recipients had rising profits. But we also need a bit of corporate social responsibility from the firms that received it. They all say in their ethics statements that they're there for the broader community. Now's their chance to show that. A handful of firms like Toyota and Domino's have done the right thing, but other big retailers such as those significantly owned by billionaires Gerry Harvey and Solomon Lew have refused to repay the money. In some cases, this can go into hundreds of millions of dollars, as in the case of the car dealer AP Eagers. There are firms that have paid executive bonuses, that have paid record dividends. None of those firms needs to hang on to corporate welfare.
STEFANOVIC: But then if you had to say this at the start of the program, that some businesses would have to pay back the money, then they just wouldn't have signed up to the program. So wouldn't the purpose of JobKeeper then have been defeated?
LEIGH: Most firms that signed up to the program in many cases did so in order to save jobs. So you think about airlines having done that. That's exactly why it was designed. But other firms took an opportunistic grab and signed up when they saw that there was a chance to get a few extra handouts-
STEFANOVIC: But they also kept hundreds of thousands of people employed.
LEIGH: Well, in the case of firms with rising profits, they didn't need JobKeeper in order to do that. Firms who were having their record year of sales were under no risk of job shedding in 2020. JobKeeper was an important program, but it could have been managed much better. We are talking about potentially more than $10 billion of taxpayer funds here, Pete. We're talking about hundreds of dollars for every one of your viewers. This is waste on a colossal scale, and the responsibility for it goes straight back to Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, who were granted extensive discretion when Parliament passed this bill back in March of last year. They had the ability to stop these rorts. They didn't do it.
STEFANOVIC: You can't change the rules at halftime, though. So what do you think needs to happen now?
LEIGH: You sure can. They did change the rules partway through the program. Thing is, they didn't change the rules in a way that cracked down on these rorts-
STEFANOVIC: But by extending it for another six months, wasn't that a good thing though?
LEIGH: The extension was welcome, but they didn't crack down on the misuse of JobKeeper and they’ve never reported to Australians simple facts like how much of the money went to firms whose profits went up. For firms who claimed based on a forecast downturn, what share of them didn't experience that downturn? This isn't Liberal Party money. This is taxpayer money - $4,000 for you, me and every one of your viewers was spent on JobKeeper. We have a right to know how that money was spent, and whether this pattern that we've seen for the listed firms holds right across the program.
STEFANOVIC: Will Labor commit to stage three tax cuts at the next federal election?
LEIGH: We'll have our tax policies at the next election, as you'd expect, Pete. We’ve got a budget still coming down, so we want to make sure that we see the numbers coming out of that.
STEFANOVIC: I just want to, just finally Andrew to some breaking news. I just want to get your reaction to it. A setback for the government - Centre Alliance has opposed most of the IR omnibus bill. The swing vote in Stirling Griff, only supports enforcement of wage theft and casual changes with amendments. What's your reaction to that?
LEIGH: It’s a bad bill that hurts workers. At a time when we've got the lowest wage growth on record, just 1.4 per cent in the last numbers, the last thing that we need is to take more power away from workers and their representatives and enrich corporate profits. We've just been talking, Pete, about a program which has gone disproportionately to boosting corporate profits. We don't need to further tilt the playing field away from employees. Australia has had rising inequality, falling wages, and we know that the secret to productivity is not in further slashing workers’ pay and conditions. A series of expert reports have made that absolutely clear.
STEFANOVIC: Andrew Leigh, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.
LEIGH: Thanks, Pete.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.