ABC PERTH DRIVE
THURSDAY, 4 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Companies using JobKeeper to pay out executive bonuses; Companies repaying JobKeeper payments after reporting huge profits; Nick Scali.
GEOFF HUTCHISON, HOST: Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, and he joins me from Canberra. Thank you for waiting so patiently, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Real pleasure, Geoff. Great to be with you and your listeners.
HUTCHISON: Now, obviously Nick Scali has weathered the COVID storm in some financial comfort. Should the business hand back millions of dollars it received through JobKeeper?
LEIGH: Absolutely, they should. And to get the answer to that, you just need to go to Nick Scali’s corporate ethics statement, where it says that the firm recognises the need ‘to maintain the highest standards of behaviour, ethics and accountability’. Well if they really believe that, then in a time in which they've seen their profits nearly double, they ought to do the right thing and hand back tax subsidies that it turns out they didn’t need.
HUTCHISON: Is there any argument as to why it shouldn't hand that money back? And I'm going to make up a hypothetical one. We managed the crisis, we kept our stores open, I kept people in work, I shouldn't be blamed for selling things that customers wanted, we deserve the success we're enjoying - that's not from Nick Scali, that's me making it up.
LEIGH: Yeah, they would say there's no legal obligation to hand it back and in that they'd be right. This is a question of ethics, not law. But fundamentally, corporate social responsibility is an issue of ethics. It's about making sure that firms aren't simply there to snaffle as much as their shareholders can get, but also available to serve customers, employees and the community. There’s this old-fashioned shareholder theory of value, best epitomised in that 1980s movie Wall Street, in which Gordon Gekko just grabs whatever he can get. But it's gone out the window and modern firms recognise that they've got a duty to the community. The best way Nick Scali could discharge that right now is to give back JobKeeper.
HUTCHISON: 1300 222 720. What do you think about this? I'll be interested in your view. And look, one of the questions I'm - one of the reasons I'm asking the question today is that we did hear a lot about young people working one shift a week and taking $750 a week from JobKeeper and how that was an outrage. But business has been a huge beneficiary. Should it be accountable for that? Does business have a social accountability, responsibility? Now one thing I did see today, some businesses who have received big benefits have handed back big benefits. The Sydney Morning Herald tells me that Toyota gave back $18 million, Coca-Cola Amatil gave back $6.7 million, and the Super Retail Group - the Rebel Sport, the BCF mob - returned $1.7 million. Is that, Andrew Leigh, what good corporate citizens do?
LEIGH: Sure is. And if you look in Britain, then you've got nearly a billion dollars of COVID business subsidies handed back by two of the big supermarket chains, Tesco and Morrison's. As you said, in New Zealand you've got Coca-Cola Amatil. You've got the mining sands company Iluka handing back JobKeeper. There’s a range of firms that have recognised that the right thing to do on a pandemic - when everyone else is tightening their belts and when there's a million people out of work, another million people wanting more hours - is to hand back taxpayer support if it turns out you didn't need it. The thing about JobKeeper is that the eligibility required just a brief downturn because the government was keen to get money out the door. But some firms had that brief downturn followed by a stonking upswing, in which they then received so much extra profits that they're able to pay executive bonuses and dividends. Good luck to ‘em, but I don't see why you should be getting taxpayer handouts if you got enough money to pay executive bonuses.
HUTCHISON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much for speaking to me. He's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.