2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 16 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Companies using JobKeeper to pay out executive bonuses; Companies repaying JobKeeper payments after reporting huge profits; the Morrison Government’s secrecy over JobKeeper data; the economic cost of the Morrison Government’s delayed vaccine rollout; Parliamentary Friends of Cycling; the right of every woman to feel safe and be safe in the workplace.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Andrew Leigh MP has been keeping track of JobKeeper, the payments made to big corporations. He's done some brilliant work in this area, where we've seen tens of millions of dollars clawed back, put back into our public coffers from businesses that have otherwise posted a profit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew is on the program again, as he is each and every Tuesday. Hello, mate.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Top of the morning to you, Marcus. A lot brighter in Canberra than it is in Sydney today, I’m afraid.
PAUL: Yeah well, it sounds like it - although there is a dark cloud hovering over Canberra, given this story, and I'll get to that in a moment with you, I’ll get your comments in regards to young Brittany Higgins. But first let's go to JobKeeper. Where are we? You've got a motion in Parliament?
LEIGH: Yes, keeping that pressure on the government Marcus by moving in Parliament to ask the government to disclose who got JobKeeper and then saw their profits rise. As your listeners will know, it was possible to apply for JobKeeper based on a forecast that your earnings would turn down. But what taxpayers have a right to know is how many firms got JobKeeper but then didn't actually have their turnover fall, how many firms ended up seeing bigger profits in 2020 in the previous year, and yet were helped out by the taxpayer. This is the biggest one off program ever put in place by the federal government. Your listeners each paid almost $4,000 for JobKeeper, so they have a right to know where the money went because it's their money, not Liberal Party money.
PAUL: Absolutely. Absolutely. Is that right? Each of us, Australian taxpayers, by the end of all of this stimulus money to get us through COVID-19 – what, roughly four grand a pop?
LEIGH: That's right, almost $100 billion. And it saved a lot of jobs, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be given proper scrutiny. We need to make sure that money wasn't being spent on executive bonuses, and that those firms that have done very well out of it have a bit of public pressure put on them to pay back. Firms like Domino’s and Super Retail Group have done the right thing, and firms like Premier Investments seem to have done the wrong thing by the Australian taxpayer.
PAUL: Still nothing from Premier Investments. Tell me about this mob again, Andrew.
LEIGH: Well, Premier is Solomon Lew’s retailer. It owns Portmans, Just Jeans and Smiggle. They’ve received a significant amount of JobKeeper, and then saw their best ever profits year in 2020. Paid out a big dividend, which Solomon Lew saw a significant chunk of – about $20 million. They then paid a bonus to their CEO of $2.5 million, Marcus, more than most of your listeners will make in a lifetime. Yet they're still refusing to pay back the JobKeeper taxpayer support that they patently didn't need.
PAUL: So Portmans and Just Jeans. I won't be shopping there anytime soon.
LEIGH: You'd be absolutely right to do that. But certainly, many Australians have been. We were concerned initially, I think, that they would be a big hit to retail. But it turned out that when people couldn't spend on services, they spent a whole lot more on goods. The retail sector had a very good year in 2020, and we have as taxpayers a right to know how many other firms are in those circumstances. Josh Frydenberg touts this data when it's good for him, but he's keeping secret the figures that don’t cast this government in a good light.
PAUL: Alright well, Solomon Lew is the man who needs more pressure brought to bear. What, two and a half million bucks as a bonus to the executive. They did extremely well out of JobKeeper. But how much money did they take off the Australian taxpayers for the supplement?
LEIGH: They took over $20 million-
LEIGH: So significant support went from the Australian taxpayer to Premier Investments. And Solomon Lew himself campaigned very hard for JobKeeper. According to one news report, he was crying on the phone to Josh Frydenberg at the start of 2020, calling on Frydenberg to put the scheme in place, and then benefited significantly from it. He's one of Australia's billionaires. Good luck to him for his success, but I don't think he needs taxpayer handouts to do it.
PAUL: Alright. The first of the 142,000 vials of biotech vaccines landed in Sydney yesterday. They'll go through quality assurance checks, batch testing before the rollout begins next week, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt. Better late than never, Andrew.
LEIGH: Greg Hunt was telling us last September that the vaccine would be delivered in January. Scott Morrison told us we'd be at the front of the queue. We're anything but. There’s been 170 million doses of vaccines putting into people's arms around the world. 50 million in America. In Israel, you've got more than half the population vaccinated. And yet, here in Australia, we’re yet to start. We're not at the front of the queue, and that's got a big economic cost. You know, the government estimated that the lockdown of the economy was costing $4 billion a week last year and the delayed vaccine is surely costing the economy billions. The fact that the government just didn't line up its vaccine deals with anything like the speed of other countries means that it's going to take longer to reopen the economy.
PAUL: Alright. Well, 80,000 doses will arrive every week in Australia from here on. Let's hope we get these doses out within the community. Of course, we know that it'll be a stagnated rollout. Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 will get the first dibs as of next week. Now, you're running off after our chat this morning to the Parliamentary Friends of Cycling breakfast. What's happening?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Dave Sharma, Helen Haines and I have set up a group called Parliamentary Friends of Cycling, and it's designed not only to celebrate the MAMLs – the middle-aged men in lycra - but also the fact that cycling is a sport for everyone. Electronic bikes have really helped to democratise cycling and ensure that so many more people can take advantage of getting on a bike to get to school, to get to work, to spend time with the kids on the weekend. It's a fabulous sport. I get out a few times a week. I'm on the bike since I'm training for a triathlon at the moment, but also I just love going around the lake with the kids. It’s a terrific way of staying fit and seeing the world.
PAUL: Alright. Before I leave you Andrew, you and I go back a few years from my time in Canberra. We both have mutual associations with a number of reporting individuals in Canberra, those inside or just outside the bubble. And I have to declare an interest in this - I know the young lady involved in this allegation that was made on national television last night. I know her partner. If I had a young daughter, I would ensure that if she wanted to work in politics as a young public servant - a dream job - I would ensure she worked for somebody like you, Andrew. Because you're a family man, a man of good values, a man who I know would take any allegations of inappropriate behaviour seriously. Sadly, it would appear - in my opinion - that the Liberal Party in Canberra in particular do not.
LEIGH: She's an incredibly brave young woman, Marcus. I don't know her personally, but Brittany Higgins’s story is a really shocking one, and speaks to the importance of having safe workplaces everywhere. When I read the report that she had to then had to go through and explain herself in the very same room where the assault took place-
PAUL: For God’s sake.
LEIGH: Yeah, it's terrible, terrible management of this. All workplaces can do better in terms of how they handle assault and abuse allegations, but it's really important to us to create a space in which women feel welcome. Otherwise, we end up in the bad old days where the place is entirely staffed by blokes and that's not healthy for Parliament and it’s not good for the country. We don't get the diversity of experience that really makes a healthy politics thrive.
PAUL: Well, it's important for people like you and your colleagues, for everybody in that place, that a young woman should be able to go to a place of work and feel comfortable, and not be allegedly raped on a Minister's couch, for God's sake. I mean, the story is deplorable. The dealings within the department that she worked for, all the way up to Minister Reynolds and then further down the chain to other ministers she worked for, it was basically - and she's outlined this very clearly - she felt that she was a problem that they needed to deal with, or at least sent over to WA so it was out of sight, out of mind while the government called the last federal election. I don't want the story to die, because the culture that needs to change, Andrew.
LEIGH: It certainly does. She certainly doesn't seem to have gotten the support that you would expect any woman to receive in these horrible circumstances. The whole Me Too movement is about recognising the importance of putting victims first, of acknowledging their interests, and I think that needs to lead to more cultural change. That's true for all, Labor’s updating our own code of conduct on sexual harassment, making sure that we're learning from what the best of businesses are doing. But if we don't get this right, then we will lose the talent so 51 per cent of population, and that would be a terrible tragedy.
PAUL: Well said, mate. Thank you very much for your time, as always.
LEIGH: Thanks, as always, Marcus.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.