2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
THURSDAY, 18 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s JobKeeper waste exposed; the need for Indigenous recognition.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: One fifth of JobKeeper payments to major listed companies in the second half of last year went to firms who grew profits during the pandemic, sparking fresh concerns the $83 billion scheme has been abused by parts of corporate Australia. Is it any wonder the critics have called JobKeeper in some form corporate welfare? Fresh analysis from corporate governance advisory firm Ownership Matters has shown 66 of the Australian stock exchange's top 300 companies claimed a total of $1.38 billion in JobKeeper payments for the six months to the end of December. Of those, 58 reported positive profit figures during the period, and around half or 34 companies told investors their underlying earnings had improved. Now our #JobKeeperWarrior on this issue, of course, is Andrew Leigh. Andrew, good morning to you mate.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Marcus. Great to be back with you.
PAUL: Thank you. Look, the irony of course - I'm reading the story on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘business profits in a welfare rainbow’, right underneath is a half-page advertisement for Harvey Norman. 60 months interest free, no deposit, no interest. Would have cost-
PAUL: I mean, how ironic is this? Would have cost them a pretty penny for it. No wonder they can afford all of this wonderful advertising, Gerry Harvey and his mob. And it goes on. It's not just - actually, as I turned the page, it's a wrap. So you've got underneath this story, ‘business profits in a welfare rainbow’, right underneath a half page spread for Harvey Norman. You turn the page and there's a full-page spread. This would have cost them a fortune. No wonder they can afford it though, we’re paying for it.
LEIGH: Harvey Norman’s been very profitable and its franchisees work hard, but the last thing they need is corporate welfare right now, Marcus. This new report shows that of the listed companies that received JobKeeper, half of them had rising profits and a fifth of the money went to firms with rising profits. That's pretty frightening. Because if that's true right across the entire scheme, we're talking about more than $10 billion going to firms whose profits were going up during the pandemic. And that would be money that could otherwise be used to extend JobKeeper, probably for about six months.
PAUL: Well, that's right. I mean, you've got all these people jumping up and down saying, ‘Oh well Marcus, you know, JobKeeper can't continue forever’. I'm like, well of course it can't continue forever, but it can be extended for some time while we get the vaccine roll out, you know, up to scratch and all the rest of it. It can be extended, so long as some of these companies that have done well out of taxpayer assistance repay the money back. So we're going to recycle it anyway. I mean, for Harvey Norman for instance - and I'm sorry to be picking on Gerry, but you know, I just find that the attitude from this bloke has just been nothing but greed. I mean, at the end of the day, if he returns some JobKeeper payments, more people might have money in their pocket anyway to go and shop at one of his bloody stores.
LEIGH: That’s right, and a handful of firms have done it - Domino’s, Toyota among them. But many Australian firms have decided that despite increasing their profits, they're going to hang on to billions of dollars of JobKeeper. And at the very same time, I was speaking to a travel agent in my electorate - he employs 16 people and he's looking to have to let go almost all of those staff when JobKeeper ends, because he says there's no other way to keep on going. The government's travel package did nothing for him. He says these are talented staff, they have huge knowledge in the industry, decades of experience - but without JobKeeper support, they'll lose their jobs and he'll lose their expertise. It doesn't have to be that way, Marcus. The government could have better designed this program to make sure that money wasn't going to firms whose profits were going up during the pandemic.
PAUL: And why is it that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg - I mean, Josh Frydenberg’s on the record saying, ‘well, they don't have to pay it back’.
LEIGH: They won’t even lift a finger to ask those people to pay it back. And yet someone wrote to me about a welfare debt, they said they were being hounded by Centrelink for $180 which was apparently overpaid in the JobSeeker program-
PAUL: I saw that, yep.
LEIGH: They're feisty when it comes to claiming money back from people on welfare, but they're pretty slow when it comes to claiming money back from billionaires who never needed the money in the first place.
PAUL: I mean, do we need to remind the Prime Minister of Robodebt and how many lives were lost?
LEIGH: Robodebt, a system which he designed and implemented, a system which has now been found to be illegal. And yet, the government while it's going so hard on battlers is going so soft on billionaires. It's just not willing to claw the money back at a time when there are jobs at stake. And we know that for those jobs that could be lost - Jeff Borland from the University of Melbourne says maybe a quarter of a million jobs could be lost at the end of the month, when JobKeeper ceases. That's going to mean blighted lives, it's going to have a huge impact on careers, mental health. It's not just an economic cost – there’s social costs as well. We can do better than this as a nation, Marcus. We can be smarter about how we're handing out money in these programs like JobKeeper, in order to protect the jobs of the most vulnerable.
PAUL: Just while I've got you there. Also a story that's gaining momentum today. Noel Pearson, Aboriginal activist, he's pleaded with the Morrison Government not to abandon long held ambitions to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution, warning that as long as Indigenous peoples remain unrecognised, Australia would be an absurdity. This trailblazing activist urged fellow one nation elders and corporate leaders in Canberra yesterday not to give up the fight toward a referendum on the issue. I mean, isn’t it a given that we should be recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our Constitution? Why do we even need to have a referendum on this?
LEIGH: We're the only advanced nation without a treaty with our Indigenous people. It would make sense for us to put that into place as a matter of national pride. This isn't just justice for Indigenous Australians, though of course it’s that. It's also that this is unfinished business for us as a nation. I was at Midnight Oil’s Canberra concert last night, their Makarrata concert. And Peter Garrett was making such a passionate case for the importance of Indigenous inclusion in who we are. We need to be better at telling the Indigenous stories, we need to be better at taking pride in the 60,000 years of Indigenous culture that's here. So this is about lifting everyone up. It's not about trading off rights from one group to another.
PAUL: Alright, mate. Thank you for coming on at short notice. We really appreciate it and we'll catch up again. Look, this JobKeeper repayment is starting to gain momentum. I mean, I don't think this will be the last report we hear, Andrew, of corporate welfare. And it is it - the idea is, the reason why - we don't want to bash up these companies, because I know that they've taken the money usually, you know, in good faith. But one of the key reasons why they should be repaying it, the Harvey Normans and Premier Investments of this world should be repaying the money is because that would provide perfect opportunity for the government then to have some extra money in the kitty to extend JobKeeper at least for another couple of weeks, even if not a month.
LEIGH: Less money for those who don’t need it, more money for those who do.
PAUL: Yeah, well, there you go. Andrew, thank you.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marcus.
PAUL: Alright. There he is, Andrew Leigh MP, our #JobKeeperWarrior.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.