Speech - Matter of Public Importance - House of Representatives - 12 May 2021
The Australian Club is an exclusive men's-only club in Sydney. Despite it being 2021, they still don't admit women as members. Last year, they doubled their surplus, thanks in part to $2 million from the government's JobKeeper program. Accent Group, the shoe seller, paid their CEO a million-dollar bonus, boosted their profits and delivered, through dividends, $11 million to billionaire Brett Blundy. They've gotten $45 million through JobKeeper, and they won't pay a cent of it back. The car dealer AP Eagers turned a $200 million profit. Their dividends will deliver $17 million to billionaire Nick Politis, but they won't return their $130 million in JobKeeper.
Then there's Best & Less. Their profits are up, but, because they're doing a sale, they've actually come clean with investors. They have said to investors that JobKeeper was a sugar hit, directly delivering more than $20 million to their budget bottom line. I imagine Best & Less are thinking, 'You only get one Morrison government in your lifetime, and we've had ours.'
Then there's Premier Investments. They may have received as much as $110 million in JobKeeper. They set a record profit and paid their CEO a $2.5 million bonus, more than most Australians earn in a lifetime. They paid a stonking dividend, of which billionaire Solomon Lew will get a sizable whack, and are refusing to repay the bulk of their JobKeeper.
The government set up the ‘DobSeeker’ helpline which employers can call to dob in job seekers. There is no helpline which people can call up and complain about the billions of dollars that this government has delivered to profitable firms. Among the listed firms we know that about a fifth of the money went to firms whose earnings went up, not down. If that's true, that means that across the entire scheme we are talking about some $15 to $20 billion delivered to firms that didn't need it. That's about $1,000 of Morrison government waste for every single Australian. It's $1,000 dollars per adult wasted through the JobKeeper scheme. They go hard on social security recipients through robodebt but they go soft when it comes to taking on the strong.
You know why these sorts of problems arise, it comes from a story which Nick Xenophon told to Katharine Murphy for her Quarterly Essay. She talked about a moment when Nick Xenophon asked the Prime Minister if he would like to catch up for a coffee. Nick Xenophon said:
He looked at me askance and said, 'What for?' I said just to catch up and have a chat about issues. He said, 'No, mate. I'm purely transactional.'
That's what we've got, a purely transactional Prime Minister who has delivered a budget with a trillion dollars of debt and no reform to show for it. This government is like Seinfeld, a show about nothing but without the laughs. That's not me, that's the right-wing Spectator magazine speaking about you. That's what your friends are saying about you.
There is a better way. In 1945 Curtin and Chifley didn't just say, 'Let's put the country back the way it was in 1939'. Instead they had a bit of ambition. As Liam Byrne reports in this book Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin:
'Curtin pledged that under his government Australia would not just win the war but win the peace too. There would be investment in social services, new housing to replace the old slums, new opportunities to be pursued and full employment for the benefit of all'.
It was a vision of what Australia could be. It was based upon the belief that if the government could expand its power and influence over the workings of the economy and society to mobilise the nation to win the war then it could do so to ensure the social betterment of all. As Liam Byrne has said, 'The Curtin government moulded the age. It actively created a new era, transforming our economy, our politics and our society. It defied the inherited orthodoxies and expanded the bounds of the possible'.
That is what ambition looks like. That is what a reforming government would be doing today to ensure that wages went up, not down; to ensure that we had a more egalitarian nation, not a less egalitarian nation; to ensure that we tackled climate change, which will hit Australia harder than any other advanced country; to see improvements in productivity, in business startup rates; to create a better Australia. Australia deserves a bold budget – not the flaccid financial statement we got last night.