Labor to blast govt on JobKeeper rorts

Federal Labor is expected to attack the Morrison government over businesses allegedly rorting the JobKeeper scheme.

Labor will attempt to push the Morrison government into publicly revealing which businesses took JobKeeper payments despite recording profit surges during the coronavirus pandemic.

Set to table a motion in federal parliament on Monday, Labor MP Andrew Leigh will mount pressure on Treasury to disclose which firms took the wage subsidy and reported a jump in profit from 2019 to 2020.

A notice of motion obtained by NCA NewsWire shows the Shadow Assistant Treasurer will call on the government to recognise the $100bn fiscal package supported large companies in generating profit hikes and paying bonuses to executives and dividends to shareholders.

“The whole point of JobKeeper … is to try and help companies that were going backwards, and so if companies have seen their profits increase, then I think taxpayers at the very minimum need to know about it,” Dr Leigh said.

“If you’ve done well and paid large dividends and executive bonuses, then the very least you can do is hand back government bonuses and support.”

The private member’s motion will call on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to make a public statement by February 25 on “how much JobKeeper support was paid to firms that saw their profits increase from 2019 to 2020” and “how much JobKeeper support was paid to firms that paid executive bonuses”.

Labor’s attempt to name and shame companies potentially rorting the scheme follows a number of large public firms reporting profit bumps, while raking in JobKeeper.

Premier Investments, backed by billionaire Solomon Lew and the owner of popular retail brands Peter Alexander and Just Jeans, received more than $45m in JobKeeper payments, despite posting a 29 per cent increase in its net profit after tax to $137.8m for the 2020 financial year.

The company’s chief executive Mark McInnes during the pandemic took close to $2.5m in short-term incentive bonuses, despite a large proportion of its retail network unable to operate because of lockdowns.

Platypus and Hype DC owner Accent Group took in $14m of JobKeeper funds, but has announced a $1.2m bonus to its top boss Daniel Agostinelli and $50m to be paid to shareholders in dividends.

Dr Leigh believes a public register like the one implemented in New Zealand should be used, noting the Australian Taxation Office’s single touch payroll system would provide easy evidence to determine which businesses went up or down over the pandemic.

“You would think the government would have a stronger interest in the budget bottom line,” he said.

Domino’s Pizza announced in January it would return $792,000 in JobKeeper payments, joining Toyota Australia and Super Retail Group, which have pledged to return funds to taxpayers.

Following growing public pressure, furniture retailer Nick Scali announced on February 8 it would return $3.6m of subsidy payments to the government. That came a week after publishing its interim results which revealed a major bump in revenue from increased sales.

Despite a slew of firms allegedly rorting the system, some sectors and communities are still relying on government aid as a financial lifeline.

Dr Leigh flagged the tapering of JobKeeper and JobSeeker at the end of March was prompting concern unemployment levels could jump.

“The cut to JobKeeper may see a whole lot of job shedding, but the cut to JobSeeker may see a lot of indirect job shedding as that money comes out of communities,” he said.

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