by Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for Government Services & the National Disability Insurance Scheme
For Australian taxpayers the JobKeeper profiteering rorts are an ongoing disgrace.
JobKeeper payments were meant to apply to businesses that suffered a slump and give them a revenue lifeline to keep trading and keep Australians employed.
It was a perfectly good idea.
But some companies that got it, and kept getting it, actually did not decline in fact some had record profits.
We now know that $13 billion in JobKeeper payments were given to businesses which recorded increases in revenue.
In any other area of the Tax Office or Centrelink this would be called an overpayment and the Government would seek to get back the taxpayers’ money that had been wrongly provided.
And rightly so. But that is not happening. There now seems to be two different sets of rules depending on who you are.
Overpaid corporations those that made profits and did not hand back the emergency taxpayer money they had been gifted get a tuck in, a cup of cocoa and a bed time story from this Government. And you’re paying for it.
If you ever needed proof that the modern Liberal Party will always prioritise its corporate cronies over regular Aussie taxpayers we have it in the behaviour of Scott Morrison and, in particular, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg over this issue.
These guys would unleash the dogs of war over a $5 overpayment to a struggling single mum on the poverty line.
But as a watchdog on Government spending which is ultimately the spending of your money and your tax dollars they’re like a sleepy purse poodle.
The Government just wants this issue to go quietly over the horizon (with the millions of taxpayers’ dollars into corporate coffers.) But Labor’s Andrew Leigh, shadow assistant minister for treasury, has been tireless in exposing the full extent of the economic decadence of this Government.
As he has pointed out, from the US to UK, Canada and New Zealand, the pandemic wage subsidy schemes of other countries have been completely transparent the taxpayer has a right to know where their money is going.
But the Morrison Government has thrown a shroud of secrecy over the recipients of JobKeeper.
That’s some extraordinary post-sale service for the corporate elite.
Contrast it with the treatment of vulnerable regular Aussies surviving on a trickle of welfare who copped fake and illegal debt notices from their Government in Robodebt.
Alan Tudge, then-human services minister, had this to say: “We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison.”
You may also recall when blogger Andie Fox wrote a column that she had been “terrorised” over a debt she claimed she did not owe, Mr Tudge’s office released her personal welfare details as well as relationship status to a journalist who published them.
No shroud of secrecy there.
Perhaps the most galling aspect of the JobKeeper profiteering scandal is the amount of Aussies’ money that has been whisked away overseas to rich foreign corporates.
This is estimated at $110m and rising.
Swiss luxury goods giant Richemont was gifted $4 million in JobKeeper by Australian taxpayers, saw its profits boom, and then paid an $8m dividend to its parent company.
French-based luxury brand Louis Vuitton was gifted $6 million in JobKeeper by Australian taxpayers while recording an increase in sales revenue, a boost in its profits and paid a dividend of $6.6m to its French parent company.
Why is the Australian Government in the business of taking your hard-earned and sending it to huge overseas corporations as some kind of pandemic gift from Down Under?
Mr Morrison is playing at Marie Antoinette largesse for Parisienne corporates but telling struggling punters in Perth, Penrith or Pakenham that they can eat cake.
Some corporates like Domino’s Pizza have done the right thing off their own bat and repaid the money.
But many large corporates, protected by the Government’s shroud of secrecy, are sitting pretty on their plundered taxpayer gold.
Meanwhile, small business is left to struggle during the pandemic, left to spend any savings to keep afloat.
JobKeeper was paid to the business owner, who then paid it to their staff as part of the regular payroll.
This meant there was an incentive for staff to work, as they were still getting paid by their boss.
Now that it has been dumped and replaced with the Disaster Payment there is no such incentive.
Go anywhere in Melbourne or Sydney today and you will see sign after sign flagging small businesses have shut down.
It makes for grim viewing as we drive to and from the local supermarket.
Something has to give.
Businesses need certainty and that is not on the table.
Sacre bleu! It’s time the Morrison Government took a break from helping French billionaires and helped Australian small business instead.
This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 15 September 2021.