THURSDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: The Morrison Government’s mismanagement of JobKeeper; Scott Morrison’s double standards in chasing down debts from social security recipients; the cashless debit card; the Morrison Government’s failure to provide transparency over JobKeeper spending.
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: A lot of these revelations, the new revelations in the past month or so that we've spoken about on the program, I've got to say have only come about because of fresh analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO. and that's been carried out on the back of constant questioning from federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who's also the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities. He joins us again. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G'day Liam, great to be with you and your listeners.
BARTLETT: Andrew, I'm not giving you that sort of leg up for any other reason - and you could be, you know, a member for the Green Vegetarian Society for all I care - but it's only been that constant haranguing that has got these figures out. They are startling, aren't they, still?
LEIGH: It's a stonking amount of money, Liam. Look at the amount that was given to firms with rising revenue - we now know that to be $20 billion over the course of a year-long scheme. For every Australian household, that's $2,000. Imagine your typical Aussie household sitting down tonight, they say 'we've got a spare $2,000, what do we spend it on?' Maybe it's going to be fixing the roof. Maybe it's going to be buying the kids some new school shoes. Maybe it'll be a holiday or a donation to charity. I don't think many Australian households would say 'let's take that $2,000, go and find a big firm whose revenues are rising, and plonk it down and give it to them.' That's effectively what Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison did on our behalf.
BARTLETT: Let's talk about the average Australian household. As I understand it, the Government is still trying to claw back about $50 million from some 16,000 welfare recipients who were overpaid because of an overlap with their JobKeeper payments. They all come from normal Australian households. If it's good enough for them, what about the others at the big end of town?
LEIGH: The Government is certainly showing double standards in terms of how tough it is on social security recipients and people with disabilities. Now, the fact is that the horse has bolted on clawing it back from big firms, but the Government hasn't even asked large firms to do the right thing. I've been out there on many occasions calling on firms whose revenues rose to voluntarily make a repayment - not a forced repayment, but a repayment which would accord with their corporate social responsibility statements. For a company like Indue, which says that it's committed to helping the community, well it can certainly do that by handing back the $2 million to taxpayers that Indue never needed.
BARTLETT: So the secret here is, essentially, if you take enough as a company boss, then you're legal, aren't you? It's all right. But if you claim a little bit and think you're doing it legally, you're expected to pay it back.
LEIGH: It's a real double standard, isn't it? You know, a bunch of corporate bosses have done the right thing. Shout out to Toyota, Domino's and Iluka who voluntarily repaid, and - after significant public pressure - Harvey Norman as well. But there's many firms like Indue that have chosen not to, and in Indue's case they're getting tens of millions of dollars from government contracts. They're running a cashless debit card which has very little evidence behind it in terms of helping local communities, and where many pensioners are concerned that the cashless debit card could be extended to them as well.
BARTLETT: But as you say, Indue was just one of a big, big, big number. In a sense, it almost feels unfair to single them out, but it's all part and parcel of that sort of tiny dribble of information that we're getting, isn't it?
LEIGH: That's right. We have some numbers on the overall cost of the scheme, the overpayments, but we don't have that transparency. As Dean [Paatsch] pointed out, Canada, Britain, the United States and New Zealand have transparent registers where you can go to find out who got their wage subsidy money. But here Josh Frydenberg’s treated it like it's Liberal Party cash rather than taxpayer money. He hasn't provided any accountability over the scheme, so what we've gotten is in dribs and drabs. Labor believes that for firms over $10 million they should have their JobKeeper receipt published online, because the Australian taxpayers have a right to know. With this extraordinary overpayment, this $2,000 for every Australian household going to firms with rising revenues, it's high time the Government fessed up.
BARTLETT: Andrew, just finally - this is almost sounds like a Dorothy Dixer, but I have to ask you. We've got an election coming up, is Josh Frydenberg going to be able to just dodge these failings right up until the election, nobody really cares?
LEIGH: He'll attempt to put on the Teflon act and have it all flying off him, but the fact is that this bloke has wasted more money through JobKeeper overpayments than any Treasurer in Australian history. No Treasurer before has managed to waste this much, and from a government that's run sports rorts and land rorts and carpark rorts, it almost looks like Josh Frydenberg is out there saying to his colleagues, 'Look, I'm gonna go one better. I'm gonna run a JobKeeper scheme that gives $20 billion to firms with rising revenue. See if you can top that, Cabinet colleagues.'
BARTLETT: It is a bit like that. It's a race to the bottom. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Andrew.
LEIGH: Thanks, Liam.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra