MONDAY, 7 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: JobKeeper incompetence; Liberal rorting; Government debt.
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: The really important numbers today are JobKeeper. I want to talk about JobKeeper and WA schools. Now as I promised this morning, I can reveal to you on the morning program that there were in fact 46 private schools that received a total of $115 million in Western Australia. We have crunched the numbers, not one of them have or has suffered a 30 per cent decline in revenue. That was the qualifying criteria for the program. Not one, not one of those 46 schools. $115 million they picked up. In fact 20 schools, 20 of those 46 that got $31 million, increased their revenue in 2020. 20 of the schools dropped between zero to 10 per cent, and some of that was a result of passing on fee cuts. Passing on fee cuts. So some of the wealthy citizens who sent their children to those schools effectively got a taxpayer subsidy. Thanks for coming. Only one school in the entire program lost more than 15 per cent in revenue. And not one of these schools has done anything dodgy. Of course, the rules were so loose they legally qualified on the basis of a temporary downturn or a forecast that never happened, that never played out. And consequently of course, thanks to Josh Frydenberg, they're not required to pay it back. Don't have to pay it back. Legally they can just keep it. Every single one of these elite private schools that got JobKeeper made a profit. 46 schools in WA, $115 million dollars in welfare. Let's put that in context. I mean the amount gifted to 46 private schools who didn't need it would be enough to buy 33 million rapid antigen tests, enough to buy 70 for each school children in Western Australia – for each and every school job in WA. No strings attached to the money, of course. It could have been used to build boat sheds or extend their wellness centres. Who knows? We know it was used to give fee discounts, as I said. Some of the schools involved of course sit on an Aladdin's cave of tens of millions of dollars stashed away in their foundations, but the figures are truly eye watering. I can go through, I've got a huge list here. I won't bore you with all the details. Schools like St. Mark's Anglican Community School, $7.1 million. John Septimus Roe, $6.8 million in JobKeeper. St. Mary's got $6.1 million in JobKeeper. Georgiana Molloy, $3.9 million. Perth College, $3.7 million. Bunbury Cathedral Grammar, $2.8 million. Tranby College, $2.5 million. Court Grammar School, $2.3 million. Frederick Irwin, $1.6 million. St. George's Anglican Grammar School, $1.2 million. St Stephen’s School, $6.3 million. The list goes on. Peter Moyes, $4.9 million. Let's have a summary of some of the really truly elite schools, the schools that are always in the news in that way, right at the top of the totem pole. I've picked out five for you here. Scotch College, Christ Church Grammar, Presbyterian Ladies’ College – PLC - Guildford Grammar and St Hilda's. Five schools whose net assets $447,000,000. Four of those schools have another $120 million stashed away in foundations. So they got plenty of comfort. There's plenty of cushion there. Between those five schools – Scotch, Christchurch, PLC, Guildford and St Hilda's - five schools, between them they got $28.5 million in JobKeeper - even though the income dropped collectively by only $6.1 million, primarily because of fee discounts. So their collective profits between those five schools rose by $30 million. That means they banked the lot. Nice big fat checks from Treasury using my money, your money, and they banked a lot. Five of the most elite schools in Western Australia. Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities for the ALP. He joins us from Canberra. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Liam. Great to be with you.
BARTLETT: Andrew, what do you make of all this publicly funded largesse?
LEIGH: Well, it's hard to see why during a pandemic and a recession this was really the best use of taxpayer money, Liam. We know that JobKeeper saved jobs where it was given some struggling firms, but we also know that a lot of JobKeeper went to entities whose earnings were rising. Some $20 billion, around $2,000 for every household in Australia, went to organisations whose revenues was going up rather than down during the pandemic. And this new data reveals that a chunk of that was going to high fee schools in your state.
BARTLETT: Elite schools, Andrew. I mean, these schools have had a birthday on the public purse. And you know, as we've just said in the example I gave, most of us has gone through to the bank. They banked the lot, $30 million just between five of these elite schools in WA. That's a taxpayer donation pure and simple, isn't it?
LEIGH: It's just remarkable, isn't it? And you contrast that with what's happened to public universities. You know, Curtin University has literally been decimated. It's lost more than one in 10 staff during the pandemic, because it was explicitly shut out of JobKeeper. So at the same time as they are allowing people to lose jobs at publicly funded universities, they were allowing some of these private schools to increase their foundations, to increase their total asset base.
BARTLETT: It's phenomenal. Let me just point you to the WA Anglican Schools Commission. Now that's a network of Anglican schools, 11 of which in WA received JobKeeper. So of those 11 schools, Andrew, if they were - let's take it as if they were one entity, they received $37.5 million in JobKeeper. The income fell only $2 million. That was again primarily as a result of fee discounts to parents. So it made profits of $36.5 million. Remember, they all got $37.5 million, these schools. Their profits were $36.5 million, an increase year on year of $25 million. Thank you for coming, JobKeeper.
LEIGH: Eyewatering sums, aren’t they, Liam? And you think what that $37.5 million could do in terms of buying rapid antigen tests to keep people safe right now. We've got a Morrison Government that is saying that it's not willing to provide rapid antigen tests free across the population, as many other advanced countries are doing. That's causing a greater spread of COVID than it would otherwise. And yet somehow they've got $37.5 million to give to schools that didn't need the money. Now, I've got nothing against JobKeeper. I've got nothing against private schools. But I've got everything against the government thinks that it's alright to splash around taxpayer dollars like they’re Liberal Party dollars.
BARTLETT: The thing is this has gone to the benefit, let's be honest about this - the bottom line of this, this has gone to the benefit of some of our wealthiest citizens. And as you say, I've certainly got nothing against private schools. If you can afford it, great. But it's the battlers who will be helping to pay that national debt off as a percentage for years to come.
LEIGH: That’s absolutely right, Liam, and these are staggering sums at a household level. As I said before, the amount of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising revenue is around $2,000 for every Aussie household. I can’t imagine if the typical Western Australian household sat down tonight and said ‘well, we’ve got 2000 bucks, what are we going to do? Is it going to be a holiday or we're going to buy new shoes for the kids? Are we going to give it to charity, or are we going to give that $2,000 to firms with rising revenues?’ I can't imagine any household in the state would choose that option. And yet, that's effectively what the Morrison Government did on behalf of Western Australian households, and every other household in Australia.
BARTLETT: Well, even if we just stick to education for a moment. I mean, what about all the public schools that need it, need facilities, need resources? I mean, at the moment, you know, they're trying to put these HEPA filters in. Air filtration. I mean, what about all this sort of stuff? That's millions and millions of dollars that could have gone to public education as well?
LEIGH: Absolutely. It's requiring a significant remodelling of public schools, as schools look to improve ventilation and move to outdoor learning. And that's why Labor's recently announced that if an Albanese Government was elected, we would put in place a fund which would allow schools to access money in order to do those upgrades. We're announcing that because the government hasn't stepped up. The Morrison Government hasn't been willing to assist public schools with the accommodations they need to deal with COVID. But instead, they've got millions of dollars to splash on independent schools whose revenues are rising.
BARTLETT: Well, I mean, look - you're loving this, aren't you? I mean, you know, and I can't blame you-
LEIGH: I’m shocked. I'd much rather not be in this situation because, you know, this is as much my money as anyone else's. The idea that we have to put up with the federal government that thinks that all right to splash money around on overseas billionaires and well off private schools is extraordinary to me. I would much rather we were debating some fine point of public policy than yet another spending outrage from the government that's presided over sports rorts, car park rorts and the rest.
BARTLETT: Andrew, all these schools - just every single one of them - they love to have school mottos. They love to put it up there and black and white, well actually technicolour, how good their integrity is and their honesty and respect and all that sort of stuff and all the keywords, all the keywords. But what would you say to those schools?
LEIGH: I think the horse is bolted in terms of that money, Liam. I don't think there's going to be any attempt to claw it back and certainly an Albanese Government wouldn't do that. But what they need to do is to be calling on the federal government to be a better government, to be the sort of government that those schools train the young graduate graduates to be, which looks after the most vulnerable first-
BARTLETT: But that’s what they try to put out, Andrew. That's my whole point. I mean, would you encourage them to try to give it back even at this point?
LEIGH: It's entirely up to them, Liam. I'm sure we would certainly welcome any money that was being handed back. But the fact is that that's effectively an egg that’s hard to unscramble. This money was given under a lawfully organised scheme. The real problem is the people that organised that scheme. The same people organised sports rorts, carpark rorts, and today announced that they can't have a federal anti-corruption commission because lo and behold three years has run out and they didn't get around to it.
BARTLETT: Well, you’re right about them getting it legally. I mean, the Association of Independent Schools represents a lot of these schools, obviously. It won't speak publicly. No one wants to front up, actually explain to taxpayers why they're saddled with all this cost. But they say and I quote, schools that applied for JobKeeper did so by following government guidelines. It's my understanding all applications for JobKeeper went through the government approval processes and decisions to provide financial assistance were made at the government level. So again, and I know this is almost a stupid question because it's a free kick for you and your colleagues. But whose fault is it? Whose fault is it this intergenerational debt is happening for no apparent reason? That money that people didn't need, social welfare that elite schools didn't need, who do we blame? Josh Frydenberg?
LEIGH: Well, it's Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison who have racked up a trillion dollars of debt with so little to show for it. These are the guys who were driving around the country in a debt truck a few years back when debt was projected to hit $300 million. It's now three times that, and if they were being honest about it, they'd be commissioning their own Liberal Party debt road train because that is the scale of debt that they've taken on without a social dividend. There's not going to be a benefit to vulnerable Australians as a result of this. There's not an investment in infrastructure as there would be if we'd invested in making sure that schools had better air filtration systems or better outdoor learning. That'd be an asset for the next generation, which might justify the debt. But this is intergenerational debt without an intergenerational dividend.
BARTLETT: Andrew, final question, because we've spoken about this on a corporate level before, you and I. I mean, we've urged companies, we've urged lots of companies to give the money back. And if they don't give it back, then people should perhaps think about boycotting their products. I mean, if you were the parent of a child who went to one of these schools today, what would you say to the headmaster? Would you encourage the principal or the board to give some of that money back?
LEIGH: Yeah, I think internally they ought to be having that conversation. I think that's exactly the right conversation to be having, and I'm certainly aware of a number of independent schools who decided they were eligible for JobKeeper but made an ethical choice not to apply, because they didn't feel that they were in danger of having parents drop out or having to let staff go. So some of those schools made that decision, and I'd welcome any school now which took a good look at their heart, a good look at his motto, and made a decision that in fact they didn't need the money and could therefore repay.
BARTLETT: It's a great point to make, because 46 took it but there's 312 private schools in WA. So that was one in seven that said, ‘yes, we'll take the money - we'll have the filthy lucre’. But one in seven, so the other the other six did the right thing.
LEIGH: Yes, absolutely. And I think those other six may have something to teach the remaining seventh. Obviously no one is going to force these schools to repay, but it would be good if they had that ethical conversation around the boardroom.
BARTLETT: Andrew, thanks very much for your time this morning.
LEIGH: Thanks for your hard work uncovering this, Liam. Really appreciate it.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.