4BC BREAKFAST WITH SPENCER HOWSON
TUESDAY, 29 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Brisbane Grammar claiming $3 million in JobKeeper despite posting a $3.7 million surplus
SPENCER HOWSON, HOST: You've heard about businesses not paying back JobKeeper when their profits did not fall as much as predicted. Well, how would you feel about a Brisbane private school doing the same? Labor's Dr Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities. He's on the warpath this morning. Dr Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G'day, Spencer, I think ‘warpath’ might be a bit much! But yes, I'm a little irked.
HOWSON: Well, with which school are you irked, and how much are you suggesting they've profited from JobKeeper?
LEIGH: Well, one of your most elite schools, Brisbane Grammar, received $3.1 million of JobKeeper last year, and that's despite the fact that its fee revenue went up rather than down.
I've got no trouble with JobKeeper going to businesses that would otherwise have hit the wall or had to lay off staff, but in the case of Brisbane Grammar, it's an elite school which has a dozen tennis courts and charges nearly $30,000 a year, has its nice rowing sheds, and last year gave its headmaster a $14,000 pay rise. It doesn't seem like the kind of organization that desperately needed JobKeeper in order to stay afloat.
HOWSON: Do we know the full impact of COVID on that school, though? Shouldn't you be looking at the 2020-21 annual report at the end of this financial year to see what impact COVID had on the school?
LEIGH: This is a program which played out largely in 2020, so I think it's reasonable to look at how Brisbane Grammar performed in 2020 compared to the previous year. It garnered an extra million dollars in enrollment fees, $48 million in enrollment fees compared to $47 million enrollment fees the previous year. It managed significant pay rises across its staff.
That's terrific for the people that are working there, but for the taxpayers that are funding this $3.1 million handout to Brisbane Grammar, I think they'd be scratching their heads and saying "Well, at a time in which many universities were having to fire staff, why is it that private schools are receiving money which effectively is then just going into their foundations, to fund significant building works, and pay rises for well-paid staff?"
HOWSON: Businesses asked for JobKeeper based on a prediction, didn't they, what they expected was going to happen in terms of their revenue? And they're not being forced to pay it back. Some are doing it voluntarily and they have been praised for doing so. Why have you chosen to make an example of one particular school in Brisbane?
LEIGH: The data for the schools is just starting to come out now, and it's painting a picture of many schools which have decided that they didn't need the money so they didn’t apply. But a few have chosen to take significant JobKeeper assistance. That includes Wesley College in Melbourne, The King's School in Sydney, one of the highest fee schools in Australia, and Brisbane Grammar as well.
Given that these schools have mission statements where they talk about giving back to the wider community, I think it is important that they reflect on the role they play and the example that they set when they take JobKeeper money at a time when others are having to tighten their belts.
HOWSON: Have other private schools here in Brisbane done the same, or is Grammar the only one that you have on the list?
LEIGH: It's a good question. The information's trickling out at the moment through schools’ annual reports. There'll be more data available later in the year through the Department of Education, and that will provide a fuller picture on this. I think it also goes to the Morrison Government's approach to public finances. This is a government which is very happy to send the debt collectors after a social security recipient who owes $100, but at the same time to give $3 million to Brisbane Grammar no strings attached.
HOWSON: Are you saying the Government should be demanding money back from any business, anyone who profited whilst being propped up by JobKeeper?
LEIGH: It's important that the Government start a conversation around that. What's been striking, Spencer, is that I, as a Labor Party member, have been calling on firms to hand the money back. So far, we've got more than $100 million back. Josh Frydenberg, whose budget bottom line I'm helping, hasn't said a word about it, and indeed Scott Morrison calls this ‘the politics of envy’. I think it's the politics of fairness. I think it's appropriate that we, as a society, regard taxpayer money as being precious, and that it should be handed out to firms when they need it, and to independent schools when they need it, but not simply sprayed around as though it was Liberal Party cash.
HOWSON: But you're pulling short of saying the Government should demand the money back from anyone who profited whilst being propped up by JobKeeper?
LEIGH: They could start by asking politely. You look at Harvey Norman, you look at Premier Investments, you look at some of the cashed-up car companies like AP Eagers. There's a men's only club in Sydney, the Australian Club, which received a couple of million dollars in JobKeeper while doubling its surplus. There's plenty of organizations in Australia that did very well last year, and in many cases, Spencer, they have these corporate or school mission statements in which they say they're about giving back to the community. All I'm saying is put that into action and give back to the community money you didn't need.
HOWSON: All right, Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities, thanks for being on 4BC Breakfast this morning.
LEIGH: Real pleasure. Thanks so much.
Authorised by Pauk Erickson, ALP, Canberra