HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 2 SEPTEMBER 2021
Has Australia ever had a more secretive government than the Morrison government? This is the government that set up a one-man cabinet committee in order to keep deliberations secret, that has presided over the secret trial of Witness K and that has refused Australians access to the spreadsheet that shows how the car park rort was perpetrated. This is a government that has maintained secrecy over the so-called national cabinet, despite the fact that it is nothing of that name, and now over the largest waste of taxpayer money in Australian history, the $13 billion of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising earnings, they want more and more secrecy.
In a range of other advanced countries, when the pandemic hit, they set up wage subsidy schemes. In Britain they set up a wage subsidy scheme, and every recipient was announced on a public website. In Canada they set up a wage subsidy scheme, and Canadian taxpayers could see on a public website every firm that was getting it. In New Zealand they set up a wage subsidy scheme, and all of the information was public. And in the United States they set up a wage subsidy scheme, and all of the information was public. We've been celebrating the anniversary of ANZUS this week. In two-thirds of the ANZUS countries they had wage subsidy schemes where there was transparency with taxpayers. The exception was Australia.
When the Morrison government set up JobKeeper it provided no transparency whatsoever—absolutely none. It was only as a result of ASIC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, that we saw a modicum of transparency, because ASIC said, 'If you're a listed firm, you have to tell the stock market if you got JobKeeper, because it might be market sensitive.' So increasingly Australians have come to learn about the firms with rising revenues that got JobKeeper. They've learned about firms like AP Eagers and Lovisa. They've learned about firms such as Premier Investments and Harvey Norman. As a result, a small number of firms that are publicly listed have decided to repay—a shout-out to firms such as Domino's, Iluka and Toyota that did so swiftly; to firms like Cochlear, who have given some of the money back; and to firms like Harvey Norman, who, after significant public pressure, decided to repay JobKeeper. Overall, there is about a quarter of one per cent of JobKeeper that has been repaid here.
But look across the ditch, to New Zealand. There you've got some five per cent of their JobKeeper equivalent scheme that's been repaid. What's the difference? It's public transparency. Australians are really dirty at a government that allowed $13 billion, nearly a thousand dollars for every Australian adult, to be overpaid to firms with rising earnings. Only nine per cent of Australians, according to a Fairfax poll, support the government's view that profitable companies shouldn't repay.
And so Labor moved an amendment in the Senate in order to see more JobKeeper transparency. We moved that medium and large businesses — excluding small business , which the tax office says is under $10 million— firms with a turnover above $10 million, should have their names listed on a public website if they receive JobKeeper. The Senate has supported this principle on multiple occasions. But now the government has gone and done a deal with One Nation. Through that deal with One Nation, they're claiming that they've brought more transparency to the scheme. They have done nothing of the sort. They put in place the classic Clayton's transparency amendment.
What is disclosed as a result of these amendments before the House today? JobKeeper receipt by listed firms. It's information that's already public. That's the Morrison government's view of transparency: 'We'll tell you information that's already public.' Let's be clear. Only three per cent of JobKeeper went to firms that are listed on the stock market, so that means 97 per cent is secret. The Morrison government proposes only to publish on a public record that three per cent that is already public.
If they weren't embarrassed by the JobKeeper overpayment debacle, then they would agree to Labor's sensible amendments. But they have a lot to hide. They are terrified of public scrutiny. They are running from public scrutiny. We know that they are embarrassed. I've spoken to members opposite who've told me privately that they're embarrassed about the 'Dividend Keeper' debacle. Labor will keep up this campaign for JobKeeper transparency. We will not stop.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra