5AA MORNINGS WITH LEON BYNER
WEDNESDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2021
LEON BYNER, HOST: I want to talk about JobKeeper and multinationals, because the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, was warned that last July 1,000 JobKeeper applicants with more than $250 million in turnover had booked revenue significantly divergent from forecasts of a downturn. In other words, they were doing much better. We should be helping people that need help, not helping people to make their profits greater. Let's talk with Dr Andrew Leigh. Andrew, thanks for coming on today.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Thank you, Leon.
BYNER: You've talked about this for a while. We still don't seem to have changed our way we do business in this space have we?
LEIGH: No, the Government's way too soft on multinationals, Leon, just as they're way too hard on social security recipients. At the very same time they're allowing some of these huge multinationals to get away with receiving JobKeeper the payments they didn't need, they're going after South Australian families for childcare debt. It's the double standard you see from this Government. JobKeeper was a good idea. It was important to save jobs. But it was badly bungled by the Morrison Government, that allowed some $13 billion to go to firms whose revenues went up last year rather than down.
BYNER: Does that mean the criteria for getting this was not as narrow as it needed to be? Is that what we're saying here?
LEIGH: These new findings show that the Tax Office had realised early on that some of these billion-dollar companies, who were required to show a 50 per cent downturn, were in fact claiming based on a 30 per cent downturn, which is the downturn applicable to smaller businesses. That's just one of the problems that's been highlighted here. It's very clear that Treasury knew, even just a couple of months into the program, that billions of dollars were going to firms with rising revenue. They had a chance to put a stop to it. They had a chance to say 'this is precious taxpayer money, we need to stop it going out the door to firms who don't need it so there's more available for small businesses that do', but they just didn't take that step.
BYNER: So how much do you think we're out of pocket as taxpayers, where we shouldn't have lost that in the first place? How many billion? Do you have any idea?
LEIGH: $13 billion went to-
BYNER: -$13 billion!
LEIGH: -went to firms with rising revenues, and for every Australian household that's about $1,300. I don't know about your household, Leon, but if our household sat down in the evening and thought about what we could do with $1,300, we'd come up with a pretty long list of things we could spend the money on. I don't think any of the things on that list would involve taking the $1,300 down to the corporate offices of a firm that was enjoying rising profits and saying 'Here you go. Have a good time.'
BYNER: Are we gonna ask for that back, or did we just do it because there was so much duress with business that we just decided to help and hopefully work this out as we went along?
LEIGH: I don't think we can unscramble that omelette. I think, unfortunately, this money has gone. What we need to do is to have proper accountability around it. It's important to have a transparency register, like other advanced countries, Britain, the UK, Canada and New Zealand do.
BYNER: Tell me what a transparency register is.
LEIGH: It's a list of large firms that got JobKeeper. That's exactly what you've got in other countries, where are all of the firms that received their wage subsidy programs are listed on a public website. Labor's not calling for all the firms to be listed, but we do think that the big firms ought to be listed. That's a quid pro quo for receiving government money. We need to know exactly what the Federal Government knew and when they knew it, because it appears from some of these new Freedom of Information documents that the Government was aware just a couple of months into the program that it was going badly awry and did nothing to stop this money flowing to firms that didn't need the assistance.
BYNER: OK, look, I've got a caller. I want you to stay on the line, Andrew Leigh. Dallas has called in from the Barossa. Dallas, what's your comment?
CALLER: Leon, this really, really hurts. We received JobKeeper, our seven staff, when it first started. It stopped in March. Since March, our business has refunded over $190,000 we're not eligible for JobKeeper. Now we're worse off than we've ever been. We're right on the edge. South Australia, you had the Treasurer on the other day, the Treasurer is saying that he's going to have to withdraw this funding, so that South Australian businesses, Leon, aren't eligible for this funding. We're not getting it. They're getting it interstate. There's businesses interstate that are doing better than what we're doing yet we're not eligible for this funding. We're not getting anything.
BYNER: Stay on the line. Andrew Leigh, your thoughts on that, what Dallas has said?
LEIGH: Dallas is spot on, Leon, that when you give far too much to firms that didn't need it, then you've got less to help struggling small businesses in South Australia. I know many firms in South Australia are hurting because they rely on interstate trade or interstate tourism. Those networks are strong, and with half the country in lockdown that means South Australia is suffering too. The Federal Government has been too miserly in providing that support, and it's been small business that have done the right thing. There's a small camping company, Hipcamp Australia, that saw a rebound and decided to repay the $51,000 that it received in JobKeeper. But then you've got big automotive seller AP Eagers that received $130 million in JobKeeper and hasn't paid back a cent. Some of these corporations really need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide to do the right thing.
BYNER: People listening today, Andrew, would say 'well, hang on a minute, if they don't really need it, how were they able to get it lawfully?' Or are we saying that the rules are too wide?
LEIGH: The rules at the time, Leon, allowed you to claim based on a forecast rather than actual downturn. That might have sounded reasonable if you hadn't known how much money was going out the door, but the Federal Government knew very early on. The Morrison Government were quickly made aware by the Tax Office, by Treasury, that billions of dollars were going to firms whose revenues were going up rather than down. They should have stopped the money flowing out to firms that didn't need it. If they had, they'd be more available right now for South Australian firms.
BYNER: Thank you for coming on, Andrew. That's Dr Andrew Leigh, who's the Federal Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.