5AA MORNINGS WITH LEON BYNER
WEDNESDAY, 5 MAY 2021
SUBJECT: JobKeeper rorts.
LEON BYNER, HOST: There are some very smart cookies in the parliament. I know there are some that you'd probably think less of, but this bloke is not one of them. He's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh, and he's got some very valuable information about JobKeeper payments, remember, which are designed to keep companies employing and in touch with their employees, and tax avoidance. Dr Leigh is on the line. Andrew, it's good to talk to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Great to be back with you, Leon.
BYNER: What have you got for us?
LEIGH: We now know that one dollar in five of JobKeeper went to firms whose profits increased in 2020 over 2019. Now that's pretty extraordinary. This is a scheme that was meant to help out firms whose revenues were cratering, and in fact a fifth of it, some $15-20 billion, was snaffled up by firms with growing profits. That means hundreds of dollars for each and every one of your listeners was wasted on firms that just didn't need it.
BYNER: Andrew, was it not the case that when we were mooting this whole thing in the first place, the concept of JobKeeper, wasn't there some sort of criteria that said that you had to be showing a degree of loss in order to qualify?
LEIGH: Yeah, it's a great question, Leon. What happened was you could qualify for JobKeeper either by showing a loss or forecasting one. A bunch of firms see to have forecast a downturn that never eventuated.
I've been trying to get out of Treasury the number of firms that did that, but they just won't play ball. They're treating it like it's Liberal Party money, rather than taxpayer money.
Some of the firm's who've gotten it include an investment bank, Moelis, and the hedge fund K2. The car industry has done very well out of it. AP Eagers has seen skyrocketing profits and Daimler, who produces Mercedes Benz, has also benefited from JobKeeper. I don't remember, when this was going through the parliament, Scott Morrison saying, 'This is a program that's going to be terrific for investment banks, hedge funds and luxury car dealers.'
At the same time, we've got people being pulled off their NDIS schemes, we've got RoboDebt, and we've got people not able to get the support that they need in industries like higher education, tourism and the arts.
BYNER: Wasn't there a criteria in order to be able to accept this, or has that fallen over?
LEIGH: The criteria were the forecast downturn or the actual downturn. You didn't have to prove that you had that actual downturn, and the Government hasn't asked any firms to pay it back. I've been out there campaigning since September of last year-
BYNER: -I just want to interrupt you there because I understand that there have been some firms who have actually given it back voluntarily?
LEIGH: That's right, yeah. Shout out to Toyota Australia, which gave the whole lot back, to Lynas Corporation, which has repaid. And half a clap to Premier Investments for giving back a portion of their $110 million that they received. But many firms which-
LEIGH: They gave back $15 million. I think they probably received somewhere around $110 million, Premier Investments. They could do with handing the whole lot back. Harvey Norman hasn't handed anything back. Accent Group has refused to repay. There's a range of firms who had their best ever year last year, paid CEO bonuses, paid big dividends to shareholders and then are refusing to repay the taxpayer. Congratulations to them on their record profits, but they don't need corporate handouts.
BYNER: No. I would have thought the criteria would have been stricter than that.
LEIGH: You'd hope so. The priority was getting money out the door, but we did give, in the legislation, unusual discretion to Josh Frydenberg to tighten up on any rorts. You've just got to contrast how they behaved with JobKeeper, spraying money around to millionaire CEOs and billionaire shareholders with the way in which they ran the RoboDebt scheme, an illegal scheme that chased down social security recipients for $100 here or $100 there. It's that double standard that just frustrates so many people, Leon.
BYNER: Where do we stand now with this?
LEIGH: We need more information out of the Federal Government. They've got to come clean on how the money was spent and they ought to be out there with me and other members of the community calling on firms that had a cracker 2020 to repay their JobKeeper. It's the right thing to do, and if these firms really believe their corporate social responsibility statements then they'll put them into action by handing back corporate welfare they didn't need.
BYNER: You'll keep us in touch with this, won't you?
BYNER: That's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, Andrew Leigh, who's a smart bloke, and I just thought it was worth checking in with him on this one because we are a very generous country and we like to look after those people who have hit hard times or have an issue where without support they'd be in big trouble. No issue there, but we oughtn't be rewarding people who are doing OK anyway - or better! - should we? That's Dr Andrew Leigh.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.