TUESDAY, 10 AUGUST 2021
SUBJECT: The Government’s JobKeeper failings.
GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: Well, now to reports the Federal Government has sent thousands of people Centrelink debt letters claiming they were overpaid due to JobKeeper. According to a report in The Guardian, the Government sent more than 11,000 people Centrelink debt letters worth around are claiming rather that they were overpaid $32 million. All the while resisting frequent calls to reclaim money from the businesses who received the wage subsidy, but then went on to make a profit. Meanwhile, in Parliament yesterday, the Opposition suddenly dropped support for an amendment to the Government's new business payments which would have required companies to reveal how much money they received from the JobKeeper wage subsidy. Labor MP Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. He's led the charge on this. He says sending debt letters to Centrelink recipients smacks of a double standard.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: I'm disappointed, Glenn, but I'm not surprised. This is the Government that invented Robodebt, and which has gone soft on big firms getting JobKeeper despite rising earnings. How many of those firms have been asked by Scott Morrison to repay? Absolutely zero. But now we've got more than 11,000 people who've received JobKeeper who are getting debt collection letters from Centrelink. From the Government that wanted to put disability support recipients on to the automatic assessments, it's sadly no surprise.
BARTHOLOMEW: Greens Senator Rachel Siewart says it's farcical that the Government's chasing individuals for so-called debts for what could be genuine mistakes in a confusing system when they're given millions to billionaires. Is it a double standard?
LEIGH: Certainly. We look at the Government going soft on billionaires, and you can see almost a dozen billionaires, by my calculations, who've received JobKeeper as a result of having shares in firms with rising earnings that pay dividends. Then you've got the firms that received JobKeeper and paid executive bonuses. The ATO and the Business Council of Australia have condemned that, but I'm yet to hear a peep out of the Morrison Government. You've got organisations such as The King's School, the men's-only Australian Club in Sydney, see rising earnings, getting JobKeeper, and not being asked to repay. The Government rolled out a $90 billion scheme, the biggest one-off scheme in Australian history, and yet has shrouded it with secrecy rather than opening up its books to the Australian people who, after all, paid the JobKeeper bills.
BARTHOLOMEW: On the Centrelink matter, though, overpayment, I guess, is overpayment no matter who it is too. If you want business to pay back the money, do you also want individuals to do the same?
LEIGH: I think businesses should look at their corporate social responsibility statements. If they say that they're there for the broader community, then they ought to do the right thing. Some of them - Toyota, Domino's, Iluka - have done the right thing. We've got back about a quarter of 1 per cent of the JobKeeper-
BARTHOLOMEW: -So should individuals who have received an overpayment also pay that back?
LEIGH: Obviously those individuals need to comply with the law. What troubles me is the double standard. It's the fact that the Morrison Government isn't going after firms who've received significant amounts of JobKeeper despite rising earnings. He won't even put moral pressure on those firms. And it's sort of ironic, isn't it, Glen, that me as an Opposition MP, is the person out there urging the firms to repay, bolstering the Government's budget bottom line.
BARTHOLOMEW: Why did Labor back down and withdraw support to the amendment that would have meant companies that received JobKeeper during the pandemic would have to publicly reveal how much money they did get?
LEIGH: We didn't want to slow money going out the door to people in lockdown, which was what the bill was doing. Had we demanded the amendment it would have held up that money going out the door. We didn't want that, but we're passionate about transparency. I've been arguing about this for longer than any crossbench senator-
BARTHOLOMEW: -Well, that's what I wondered. Isn't that a bit embarrassing? You've been campaigning long and hard for such transparency and your own party buckles at the last minute.
LEIGH: We can walk and chew gum at the same time, Glen. We need to make sure that we've got that money quickly going out the door to people are locked down, but at the same time we continue to campaign on transparency. The two things don't have to be tied together. They were for reasons of political expediency in the Senate. It would have been good if the Government had supported transparency and got the money out the door, but we weren't willing to make people in Sydney and Melbourne under lockdown be hostage to the needs of transparency.
BARTHOLOMEW: That's Andrew Leigh, the Labor MP who's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.