2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 19 JANUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Companies using JobKeeper to pay out executive bonuses; Companies repaying JobKeeper payments after reporting profits; Deloitte Business Outlook; the risks of cutting support payments too soon; Federal election.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: It's time to catch up with Andrew Leigh MP. Good morning, Andrew. How are you, mate?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Great, Marcus, how are you?
PAUL: Okay. BonusKeeper - that's what you dubbed JobKeeper. You and I went through the detail at length on the program late last year. A number of Australian businesses that were still doing quite well were paying executive bonuses and also making quite a handy profit while receiving JobKeeper. Now we learned that there's a handful of Australian companies pledging to return some of the money.
LEIGH: It's terrific, Marcus. Toyota Australia is one of those who've given the money back. They've given $18 million in JobKeeper payments back to the taxpayer and their CEO, Matthew Callachor, said that it was ‘the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen’. And then yesterday, we had Super Retail Group - which owns Rebel, Supercheap Auto and BCF - saying much the same, plenty of good sales. They decided that they didn't need the taxpayer money and so they're giving $1.7 million back to the taxpayer. I really think those two firms are really going to go up in their public standing. They show that their corporate ethics are in line with most Australians. If you're doing well, you don't need taxpayer handouts.
PAUL: No, you don't, and congratulations to them. And also congratulations to you, Andrew, because you and I but you in particular have been on about this for quite some time. You've brought pressure to bear where it's needed, because you're saving Australian taxpayers dollars.
LEIGH: Absolutely, Marcus, and this is a time in which government budgets are tight. We know that the government is looking at phasing out JobKeeper even before the recovery takes hold. The Deloitte figures that were out yesterday show pretty weak wages growth for years, unemployment not returning to pre pandemic levels for a number of years. And so it's quite clear that there are people that are going to be struggling - the million out of work, the million who'd like to have more hours. And the JobSeeker payment is scheduled to fall again, and that's going to make it very tough for many of those people who are just struggling to get by and pay rent and pay the bills. At a time like that, we shouldn't be giving many millions of dollars to firms whose profits in 2020 were better than their profits in 2019.
PAUL: Well, the other concern of course, and we'll speak a little bit more about it this morning on the program with NCOSS - they're suggesting that a rise in child protection notifications during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for a stronger focus on mental health, family violence and housing and homelessness. Now, that's the New South Wales Council of Social Service. They've produced some data here from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that shows that child protection notifications fell during COVID-19 and rose again once they were lifted. What their main concerns are is that a number, in fact nearly 30,000 more children could be at risk of neglect across New South Wales due to increased unemployment. And also, of course, there'll be some distress, whether it's mental distress or certainly distress that's caused by financial strain. I suppose we could call it financial distress. What they're suggesting is that more than 9,000 more people in New South Wales are at risk of becoming homeless once JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments cease to exist.
LEIGH: It's interesting, Marcus, because we often don't think about the impact of a recession on kids. But of course, anything that affects the financial stability of a household or causes adults to lose their job flows onto kids. And then you've got the school closures on top of that, some of the uncertainty over unstable housing. We know that there's family violence - reports of that going up as well. And so we really do need to make sure there's enough resources for those extraordinary frontline workers that are out there helping families who are in these really awful conditions.
PAUL: When's Parliament back, Andrew?
LEIGH: Parliament's back in the beginning of February, Marcus, and we'll be pushing strongly for some of the other firms to step up and do the sort of thing that Super Retail Group and Toyota have done. I'm thinking particularly of Premier Investments, which operates Smiggle and Dotti, Portmans and Just Jeans. They’re a firm that's gotten many millions of dollars of JobKeeper. They've paid their CEO a bonus, they paid their billionaire shareholder a good dividend, and yet they're refusing to pay money back to the taxpayer - despite enjoying a very big increase in profits.
PAUL: Alright. Well, keep the pressure up on them.
PAUL: On another aside, some news yesterday. It came from one of the union heavyweights who's pushing for Tanya Plibersek perhaps to replace Anthony Albanese as Labor leader. I don't know whether you will buy into any of this or not, but are there some concerns within the rank and file of Labor that Albo mightn’t be able to get you across the line if ScoMo pulls an early election this year?
LEIGH: No, none at all. You've had many conversations with Anthony, you know how passionately committed he is to making sure that we have a recovery which takes us back to a better place than we were before the pandemic. Anthony sets the standards much higher than Scott Morrison in wanting a recovery which will make sure that we get strong wage growth, that we have an economy which is dealing with dangerous climate change, and in which no one's left behind and no one's held back. That's his passion. Of course, it's tough to be an opposition leader in these times. We see that around the world. But I think he's doing a terrific job.
PAUL: Alright, mate. Good to chat. We'll catch up next week. Thank you, Andrew.
LEIGH: Great. Thanks, Marcus.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra