2CC CANBERRA LIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
TUESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: $13 billion in JobKeeper overpayments
LEON DELANEY, HOST: The federal member for Fenner and Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities, Andrew Leigh, has been criticised - by The Australian newspaper, no less. He's been accused of being a hypocrite. Apparently, according to The Australian, Andrew Leigh is a hypocrite because he's been heavily pursuing the issue of companies that claimed government payments from the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme and yet went on to make record profits anyway and paid out big bonuses to their executives and big dividends to their shareholders. Obviously, there is a question to be asked there, but according to The Australian, Andrew Leigh is hypocritical because, they say, he was singing a different song last year. Andrew Leigh is on the phone now. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Leon, great to be with you.
DELANEY: Thanks for joining us. Are you a hypocrite?
LEIGH: Of course not. This idea that you've either got to be all in favour of JobKeeper or all against JobKeeper is schoolyard stuff. Any sophisticated observer knows that we needed a wage subsidy scheme in place, as many other advanced countries had. We didn't need a wage subsidy scheme that gave $13 billion to firms with rising revenue, and has less transparency than the schemes in place in Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. It's not too much to ask that the federal government can run the run the place properly, but just as with vaccines and quarantine, JobKeeper was a good idea badly botched by the Morrison Government.
DELANEY: I should warn you that you need to be careful what you say on this program, because apparently they're listening. Some of your remarks that they've quoted they say came from this program on 11 May last year, when you said that without JobKeeper we'd be looking at unemployment more like 20 per cent than 10 per cent. So, you know, be very careful. They are paying close attention trying to pick up any indiscretion that you might commit.
LEIGH: Leon, I assume when I'm on 2CC that everybody in the nation worth their salt is hanging on my every word. I assume that there are 26 million people tuned in right now. Is that not the case?
DELANEY: Most of them have to do it on the app, of course, because the AM signal doesn't quite reach that far. But this question about being hypocritical because you said it was a good idea last year, and now you've got some sort of nits to pick with it, aren't they simply misrepresenting what you said?
LEIGH: Yes, of course. They're playing political games because they're deeply embarrassed about the way in which they rolled out the JobKeeper scheme. They know it is completely indefensible to have given money to firms such as AP Eagers, Premier Investments, Harvey Norman and the like who didn't need the cash and for whom there wasn't a single job saved. You save jobs by giving money to firms at a time when they would otherwise have to let people go. For firms whose revenues were going up, who were doing better in 2020 than they in 2019? Well, you don't save jobs by giving them money.
DELANEY: No. Now, obviously, at the time, there was a little bit of confusion and people were uncertain about what to expect, and it's quite possible that some people, some companies applied for the money in the belief that they would need it and then subsequently things turned out differently. Now that they've got this windfall they're saying, 'well, nobody's asking me to give it back. I'll just keep it.' Obviously, the government could ask them to give it back. Why do you think the Government doesn't want to?
LEIGH: It beats me. It is kind of bizarre, isn't it, Leon, that I'm there as an Opposition MP, beating the drum asking firms to give money, effectively, to Josh Frydenberg's budget. He ought to be going out there and saying to firms that did very well in 2020 that it's time to give something back to the community. He ought to be asking those firms to read their corporate ethics statements, which all say that they're there for the broad community and to abide by their own corporate ethics statements in handing their corporate welfare they never needed. Josh Frydenberg is not asking them do that. Scott Morrison is not asking them to do that. They're preferring instead to make up stories in The Australian newspaper, to attack the one person who is asking firms to repay money to the Commonwealth budget. Some firms have done it - Domino's, Toyota, Iluka - but many haven't.
DELANEY: I was going to say some have chosen to do that voluntarily because they just felt it was the right thing to do. Now, here's the thing that I find most galling. It's not so much that they're allowing the companies to keep the money. Sure, it was a confusing time, and they just wanted to make sure that the economy was kept afloat. That's understandable. What's not understandable is why the big companies can keep this largesse and yet small individuals who might have benefited disproportionately more than they should have done through some of the other programs are now being told that they have to pay their money back, even though they may have already spent it, they don't have much money to start with. It's the people on Centrelink, the people with the lowest and least resources, the people who are most vulnerable that are pursued, whereas the big, strong, tough corporates who could look after themselves, well, no, no pat on the head and you can go your merry way.
LEIGH: It's that double standard that really hits people. You look at Jan Raabe. She's a pensioner in Frankston who worked in a job supported by JobKeeper. She understated her income, so therefore needs to pay back her pension at $15 a fortnight. Jan made a mistake in estimating her income. She has to repay. But if you look at some of the billionaires whose firms got hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper, they don't have to repay a cent.
DELANEY: Quite literally the rules are different for the people who are better off.
LEIGH: That's right, and there's no moral pressure being placed by the Government on those that got JobKeeper despite doing better. No moral pressure being placed on The King's School in Sydney, on the Australian Club, the men's-only club that got $2 million in JobKeeper despite doubling its surplus. No pressure being placed on the investment banks and the hedge funds who've seen their earnings rise. No moral pressure being placed on Louis Vuitton, whose owner became briefly the world's richest man, thanks in part to millions of dollars of JobKeeper from the Australian taxpayers.
DELANEY: So, who's really the hypocrites now?
LEIGH: It's a bizarre story, Leon, and you should expect more of these fabrications. They make stuff up about retrospective taxes and the like, when really all that Labor is doing is asking for some basic public accountability. This wasn't $13 billion of Liberal Party money. This is $13 billion of taxpayer money: $1,300 for every Australian household. Think about your own household. What could you do with $1,300? Well, there's a bunch of things that I imagine people would want to do. Pretty low down the list would be taking $1,300 and walking up to a profitable company and saying, 'here you go, good luck with it.'
DELANEY: There's an ad, isn't there? 'Shut up and take my money.' Yes, but I want something in return for my money. That's the bottom line. Andrew, thanks very much for chatting today.
LEIGH: Real pleasure, Leon. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.