6PR MORNINGS WITH LIAM BARTLETT
THURSDAY, 6 MAY 2021
SUBJECTS: JobKeeper rorts.
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Now, the discount retailer Best&Less is in the frame. Best&Less had millions of dollars go to it with JobKeeper, and one of the politicians who have been calling on that particular group to give the money back is Andrew Leigh. Andrew is the Federal Labor MP, the Member for Fenner in the ACT. Andrew, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning Liam. Great to be with you and your listeners.
BARTLETT: And thank you for joining us. How much do you want Best&Lless to give back, Andrew?
LEIGH: $42.6 million, which is the amount that they received from taxpayers, despite seeing their profits go up last year. JobKeeper was designed to be a program that kept businesses afloat and kept people in work, not to pad the profits of private equity firms.
BARTLETT: $42.6 million?
LEIGH: It's a lot of money, isn't it? You think what that could do for people who are down and out, for repaying some of our debt, for improving our education system or our healthcare system, but instead it's gone to pad the profits of the private equity firm that's now looking to make a sale. As part of that sale they've disclosed that more than half of the amount went directly to their bottom line. They've been very clear with their investors that this was just a windfall that Best&Less shareholders received - hardly the purpose for which we designed JobKeeper in the first place.
BARTLETT: So, what, Andrew, they have admitted that, what, $20-odd million went to their profit line?
LEIGH: That's right. They've said to investors that that's the boost to the profits that they received. They are not alone, of course, in that. We've had huge benefits go to the car industry: multinational manufacturers like Daimler and Ford, companies such as AP Eagers, a large car dealer which made a $200 million profit last year, paid $17 million to its billionaire shareholder Nick Politis, and yet is keeping more than $100 million of JobKeeper. We've got hedge funds and investment banks that received JobKeeper. I don't remember when we were debating this bill in Parliament Scott Morrison standing up and saying 'Well, this is going to be a great program for profitable companies like investment banks and hedge funds.' This wasn't the purpose for which JobKeeper was put in place.
BARTLETT: It certainly was not. Best&Less, as I understand it, is on the market at the moment isn't it? It's up for sale.
LEIGH: That's right, and that's why we've got this unusual information where they've actually said to their investors 'look, this padded our profits.' They're pretty shameless about it. They're not handing the money back But I'll bet if you go to the Best&Less website and get their Corporate Social Responsibility statement, they’ll say that they're not just here for the shareholders and their executives, they would say their committed to giving back to the community. Well, if that's really true, they should give back to the community the corporate welfare that they never needed. Gerry Harvey should do the same. Harvey Norman's yet to repay. Solomon Lew could hand back the rest of $110 million or so that Premier Investments received. Good that he gave back $15 million, but there's still an awful lot that Premier Investments has received and is hanging on to.
BARTLETT: So, where would you draw the line? I mean, you saying, what, are companies who made a loss should be allowed to keep this, but if you've made a profit you should give that part back or part thereof? I mean, where do you draw the distinction?
LEIGH: Well, that would be entirely consistent with how the scheme was designed. It was meant to go to firms who were experiencing a downturn. The problem was that you could forecast a downturn, that downturn didn't eventuate, and then you still got the JobKeeper money. In other places there were stricter requirements. New Zealand, for example, checked every four weeks to see that your sales were down 40% for their wage subsidy scheme, but Australia didn't have any of those sorts of measures around JobKeeper. It's such a contrast with the way in which the Government ran RoboDebt, where it was sending the debt collectors after people even when it knew that the scheme was illegal. Unlike that, we've got millionaire CEOs and billionaire shareholders making off with huge amounts of money in JobKeeper and not a peep out of Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg
BARTLETT: It's gathering headwinds, this story, this debate. I'm happy to continue the discussion and thank you, Andrew, for joining us this morning.
LEIGH: It's a pleasure. Thanks, Liam.
BARTLETT: Andrew Leigh, the Federal Labor MP, Member for Fenner in the ACT.
Authorised by P Erickson, ALP, Canberra