The lengths to which the Scott Morrison Coalition government will go to shield big businesses which have shamelessly rorted the $90 billion JobKeeper program are incredible.
The JobKeeper job subsidy program was introduced in March last year in response to fears of mass layoffs in the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It was paid directly to employers who anticipated that they would suffer at least a 30% fall in turnover.
Companies with more than $1 billion in revenue could claim if they anticipated a 50% or more fall in turnover. However, bosses were not legally required to return the subsidies if their business did not decline by as much.
We know that at least $13 billion went to companies that actually increased their turnover!
As large public companies released their profit results, it became clear that many of them (most notoriously the retail giant Harvey Norman) had done quite well despite the pandemic.
But now the government is shielding the identities of private companies and overseas companies which received JobKeeper.
Under questioning in the Senate, the government threw up a barrage of misleading figures and refused to release a Treasury analysis of the program or the names of the companies that received the subsidy. Its excuse was “taxpayer confidentiality”.
But federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg may have slipped up on this mess of obfuscations.
In a September 10 op-ed for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian, entitled “JobKeeper did the job it was meant to do, and quickly” he wrote: “New Treasury analysis has found that in the June quarter, where eligibility was based on an anticipated decline in turnover, the actual median decline in turnover for JobKeeper recipients was 28 per cent.”
As the Australian Financial Review’s Joe Aston pointed out on September 12, this means that about half of the bosses that received the JobKeeper subsidy did not qualify.
Contrast the Morrison government’s protection of the corporate rorters of JobKeeper with the brutal persecution of allegedly overpaid social security recipients in the notorious Robodebt scandal.
Thousands of mostly poor people were terrified and two people were allegedly driven to suicide in an illegal scheme which spent $606 million to recover $785 million.
It took a class action by victims of this persecution, which ended in a $1.8 billion settlement, and a Senate inquiry to stop it.
Meanwhile the multi-billion dollar corporate rorters of JobKeeper are gently urged to voluntarily return their overpayments. Billionaire Gerry Norman paid back $6.02 million of $22 million his company received under JobKeeper in a year where it boasted record sales and a $521 million increase in profits over the previous year.
But other big companies, many of whom pay zero in corporate tax, have not been forthcoming and, by July, just $225 million in JobKeeper corporate subsidies had been returned — 90% from publicly listed companies because they could be shamed.
The federal government is determined to hide the identities of the private companies that have received billions in JobKeeper subsidies, but this is nothing new.
Independent investigative journalist Luke Stacey, in an article for Michael West Media has exposed how a law introduced by the Paul Keating Labor government in 1995 has helped the wealthiest Australians hide their finances.
“It’s quite the cosy little arrangement that some of Australia’s “old money” billionaires enjoy, courtesy of the federal government. It’s a cosy arrangement afforded to no other Australians, and a number of the country’s wealthiest individuals have fought tooth and nail to protect their privilege despite repeated attempts by parliament, the corporate regulator and Treasury to end it.
“Billionaires such as Gina Rinehart, Anthony Pratt, Harry Triguboff, Frank Lowy, Kerry Stokes and dozens of other ‘old wealth’ Australian families are exempted from having to produce audited financial accounts to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
“A total of 1,119 large proprietary companies are on this secret rich list; a result of ‘grandfathering’ provisions of the corporations laws that were introduced by the government of Paul Keating 25 years ago.”
This is but one example of how the capitalist system we live under is a plutocracy and there is one law for the rich and another for the rest.
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