IT’S TIME THE LIBERALS ASKED JOBKEEPER MILLIONAIRES FOR THEIR MONEY BACK
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, 16 JUNE 2016
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
The Labor Party will be supporting this motion, recognising the importance of ensuring that firms that receive JobKeeper they didn't need to pay it back.
Yesterday the exclusive Australian Club voted on whether or not to allow women as members. Apparently, the memo hasn't gotten through to the Australian Club in Sydney that it's 2021. Of the 693 votes that were cast, 62 were against allowing women members. Thirty-seven per cent were in favour. One per cent abstained—apparently, they couldn't decide whether or not women should be allowed into the Australian Club.
But the one thing that 100 per cent of Australian Club members voted for was taking two million bucks of JobKeeper from the Australian taxpayer. And last year the Australian Club didn't do badly: they doubled their surplus.
They're not the only exclusive club to have benefited from the JobKeeper scheme. The National Golf Club got $1.2 million of JobKeeper and paid $1 million more to their holding company than in the previous year. It costs $13,000 to join the National Golf Club.
Healthia took $8 million in JobKeeper and paid bonuses of $221,000 to its executives. That is in direct contradiction of what the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and even Jeff Kennett says: if you're taking corporate welfare, you shouldn't be paying bonuses.
And then there's Best&Less, which got millions of dollars in JobKeeper despite rising profits and then told investors, in candid terms, 'This sugar hit to profit is not repeatable.' I'll bet what they're thinking is, 'You only get one Morrison government in your lifetime, and we've had ours.' The member for Melbourne talked about $1 billion of waste, but that may be just the tip of the iceberg. When we look at listed companies, an analysis by Ownership Matters finds that a fifth of the money went to firms with rising earnings. If that's true across the scheme, we're talking about $15 billion to $20 billion of taxpayer money wasted. That's $1,000 for every Australian adult.
Who did it go to? Well, it went to billionaires, who massively increased their wealth last year. For example, take Nick Politis, whose car dealerships raked in $130 million of JobKeeper and saw their profits go up, paying out a dividend worth $17 million to Nick Politis. And then there's Solomon Lew, who was on the phone tearfully pleading with the Treasurer to introduce the JobKeeper scheme. His firm went on to set record profits. It's paid back $16 million of JobKeeper, but it hasn't fully disclosed the total amount it received, which is probably in excess of $100 million. Premier Investments should pay back JobKeeper.
And then there's Harvey Norman. Harvey Norman and its franchisees received some $22 million in JobKeeper. They have refused to pay it back, with Gerry Harvey describing what they've received as a 'tiny amount'. This is the very same Gerry Harvey who has been arguing against the Victorian mental health levy and advocating against a wage rise for minimum wage workers. Then there's 1300SMILES, which received $2 million in JobKeeper despite doubling its profits and paying shareholders a whopping dividend. Its majority owner, Daryl Holmes, just bought a $6 million mansion. It would have been nice if Mr Holmes could have bought, say, a $4 million mansion and paid the $2 million back to the taxpayer.
The fact is that if we were talking about people who were homeless, helpless or jobless, then the Morrison government would be after them like a rat up a drainpipe. I have here a notice sent to one of my constituents, which says: 'We have checked your JobSeeker payment and found we have paid you too much,' and there's a bill for her to repay $180.48. But there's no similar bill going to the large corporates in Australia that got more JobKeeper than they ever needed. There's one rule for people with disabilities, who are being hounded by automatic assessments in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. There's one rule for robodebt recipients, who were being hounded and in some cases committed suicide. And then there is a completely different rule for the private equity firms, the hedge funds, the exclusive men-only clubs and the cashed-up firms that took taxpayer handouts and saw increased earnings.
Some have done the right thing. Construction giant CIMIC has paid back all of the JobKeeper support, $20 million, received by its subsidiaries. We've seen Domino's repay its JobKeeper. Iluka has repaid JobKeeper. Cochlear has repaid half its JobKeeper—so, half a cheer there. Energy company Santos has repaid all the JobKeeper assistance it received.
When the second commissioner at the Australian Taxation Office, Jeremy Hirschhorn, was quizzed in Senate hearings, he revealed to my colleague Senator Katy Gallagher that there are 20,000 small firms every month who said: 'No, thanks. We don't need JobKeeper.' They're small firms that have very quietly decided that the JobKeeper scheme is for firms that need it and not for those with rising earnings.
The fact is that JobKeeper was paid to firms that didn't need it, and the Morrison government didn't lift a finger. It's been left to those on this side of the House. We've been the ones calling on these firms to repay the money. And so far over $100 million has been returned. It's strange, isn't it? The Prime Minister and the Treasurer talk about ‘the politics of envy’ when Labor people try to improve their budget bottom line. It's very simple. These large firms should pay the money back that they didn't need. In doing so, they would be according with their own corporate social responsibility statements that say they're not just there for the shareholders and the executives but that they're there for taxpayers, customers and the broader communities. They would do the right thing. They'd burnish themselves in the eyes of the Australian people. They'd recognise that, at a time like this, the last thing we should be doing is giving billions of dollars to billionaires.