RADIO 6PR MORNINGS WITH LIAM BARTLETT
MONDAY, 6 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: The Government’s JobKeeper waste and secrecy
[CLIP OF PARLIAMENTARY SPEECH PLAYS]
LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: That's Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities and he joins us this morning. Andrew, how are you?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Very well, Liam. Congratulations on your 60 Minutes work yesterday, an incredibly important forensic analysis of the biggest waste in Australian history.
BARTLETT: Well, you've been covering, as we just heard on the radio, you've been covering it on the floor of the House for weeks now, trying to make a dent in some of these huge, huge figures. But Andrew, as I just mentioned, I think it's really important that we, you know, it's one thing to reel off all those millions from the public side of things, but 97 per cent of it is private. We may never know.
LEIGH: That's exactly right, Liam. Now, what we've got from the private companies is absolute secrecy. We only have the public company transparency, as you pointed out in 60 Minutes, because ASIC, the corporate watchdog, required listed companies to disclose JobKeeper receipt to the share market. But there's a bunch of large private firms out there, which may or may not have gotten JobKeeper and may or may not have had rising revenue. At a time when people are being asked to tighten their belts, when real wages are forecast to fall for the typical Australian, it's only right to be putting a bit of a spotlight on who got JobKeeper and then saw their revenues rise.
BARTLETT: Andrew, what are the chances of getting any of this back, realistically? Is there anything that can be done in Parliament?
LEIGH: One of the things you notice, Liam, is the contrast between Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, no public transparency thanks to the Government, 0.25 per cent repaid. In New Zealand, full public transparency, about 5 per cent repaid. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the American judge Louis Brandeis once pointed out. We need to bring this program into the spotlight. We've been publishing some data that we've gotten from the Parliamentary Budget Office, such as this $13 billion figure, but we need more to come out. For the Federal Government to the saying that they're going to demand money back through their illegal Robodebt scheme from social security recipients at the same time as protecting their billionaire mates who received big share dividends as a result of rising revenues from JobKeeper-fuelled firms, the double standard in that is just breathtaking.
BARTLETT: Well, they just clearly don't want to talk about it, do they. They do anything not to talk about it. I notice Josh Frydenberg's running around the country talking about China today, breathlessly trying to introduce that as an issue to try and get this off the table.
LEIGH: That's right, and every time you press them on the $13 billion of JobKeeper waste, their defence seems to be 'well, we didn't waste all of the money. Some of the JobKeeper money was well spent.' That's a pretty lame defence. It's a bit like a bank robber leaving a few ingots behind and then saying, 'well, I didn't rob the entire vault.' The fact is that these guys ran the biggest one-off program in Australian history and they had the biggest waste in Australian history, with $13 billion of overpayments accounting for almost $1,000 for every Australian adult. With that money, we could have delivered fibre-to-the-home National Broadband Network to every urban home in Australia, something that would be damn useful right now when half the country is stuck in lockdown.
BARTLETT: Well, yeah, exactly. Exactly. I mean, this is a time when people need it all over again, don't they? What about the idea of a retrospective rule? Do you think that there's no chance at all in that, Andrew?
LEIGH: I think retrospectivity's got serious problems. What I would like to see is the Federal Government putting a bit of moral pressure on firms to repay. It's kind of bizarre, isn't it, Liam, that you've got me out there as an Opposition MP calling on large firms to repay, the benefit of which goes to Josh Frydenberg's budget bottom line. It would be nice if Josh would do a bit of the heavy lifting on this one, and actually have some hard conversations with CEOs. Those conversations would go as follows: 'have a look at your corporate social responsibility statement. It says you're there for the broader community. Well, time to follow it. Time to repay money you didn't need.'
BARTLETT: It's just such a bonus, though, isn't it? It's an incredible bonus. I mean, let's just use simple, simple figures so it's easy to follow, but for example, if a company made a profit of $200,000 and they had $100,000 in JobKeeper, why not give it back? I mean, what is the problem apart from being greedy?
LEIGH: Yeah, that's right. I think one of the most interesting parts of your 60 Minutes package, Liam, was your interview, there was Don Meij from Domino's, where he just simply said, 'We thought it was the right thing to do.' Firms like Iluka and Toyota took the same approach. I think the public has generally looked very warmly on firms that recognise that their job isn't just to snaffle every last dollar out of the community, but to recognise that they have a responsibility to taxpayers, to consumers, to their workers, and to the broader community at large.
BARTLETT: All right, so bottom line, you think the first thing we should do is make it all public and then everyone can see what people got, compare it to their financials and say, 'Right, if you don't think it's a fair thing to pay it back then that's on you.'
LEIGH: Yeah, we've called for transparency among firms above $10 million, which is the Tax Office's cut-off for small business. We think it's appropriate for JobKeeper received among those medium and large businesses to be public. You go to Canada, Britain, New Zealand, United States, you have public transparency around their wage subsidy schemes. It's only reasonable, because these are, after all, not Liberal Party dollars they were doling out: these are taxpayer dollars and taxpayers have the right to know how our money was spent.
BARTLETT: Andrew, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
LEIGH: Thank you, Liam.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.