By Jim Hayes
The proof is there. Ever since the introduction of JobKeeper last year, there had been allegations that the system was being milked by big business. An analysis by corporate governance advice firm Ownership Matters, shows that 34 of the biggest companies on the Australian Stock Exchange have pocketed $284 million of the government handout.
JobKeeper was available to big businesses that could account for a 50 percent loss of turnover during the lockdown. But this can easily be manipulated through changes to operations and some creative accountancy.
Even so, 34 of these companies recorded an increase in profit over the period. This profit was subsidised by JobKeeper. No wonder there are now calls to make them return the money. It accounted for an average 20 percent of their earnings.
The analysis only involved the 300 largest listed corporations and did not take account of complex company structures and interrelated agencies. The amount of money soaked up in this con is likely to be significantly higher than reported.
Accounts of 75 companies showed that they had received $2.5 billion from JobKeeper. For example, Qantas ($726 million), Crown Resorts ($254 million), Flight Centre ($195 million), Star Entertainment Group ($152 million), Eagers Automotive ($129 million) and G8 Education ($102 million).
This was 65 percent of the JobKeeper money going to listed companies.
The scam was made possible by the lack of transparency on how JobKeeper operated. Not even a public register of who received what. In other words, the way JobKeeper was formed and operated enabled the operation of a kind of corruption.
Nor were the payments made as a direct subsidy to wages. Businesses were left with considerable discretion on how they used the money. It is not surprising that some of this was diverted from meeting wages expanses to other operations and shareholder dividend payments.
The Prime Minister dismissed concern as recently as February this year. “I’m not into the politics of envy,” he said.
Scott Morrison is not concerned that many workers lost out on JobKeeper and where it was used to turn many full time jobs into part-time ones on part time wages. On the contrary. His government is set on a path to bringing legislation aimed at further casualising work.
The approach is extended to the unemployed, pensioners, the disabled, and single parents. An increase of $25 a week hides the reality of the massive cut of the removal of the JobSeeker supplement. All payments are set to continue to fall in real terms.
Changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will make it considerably harder to get assistance. It isn’t easy as it is, and the Scheme is to be administered by private contractors, with an incentive to knock back as many applications as possible. Evidence from treating doctors will count for far less than the decisions of commissioned assessors.
It all shapes up to one thing. Australia is saddled with as government that has a clear class view of the world. The wealthiest in our society are always good, no matter what it does, and its interests must therefore be protected.
Everyone else is of little concern, and only worthy of being made available to be used.
The question is how long will Australia to accept this?