By Jim Hayes
One of the biggest disgraces in recent Australian history must be the corporate misuse of the JobKeeper payments last year. It did not take long for reports to come in on how certain companies were diverting money to themselves, which was supposed go to workers forced to stay home.
Even worse is that the Morrison government has let them get away with it.
According to a 7.30 report based on information falling into its hands, a loophole using projected turnover falls was used. The point is that these were fictitious falls, unrelated to what really happened, and the fact that that the loophole was available speaks volumes about the relationship between big business and politics.
Companies rorting the system walked away with, as far as we know, $6 billion, and some of them saw their turnover increase. An earlier report from the ABC revealed one in six JobKeeper businesses did not suffer a downturn during the scheme’s first three months.
Given many of the largest of the 35,000 thousand companies that experienced a rising turnover applied for JobKeeper, the real amount taken will be substantially higher. This means quite a lot, when only part of the initial $90 billion outlay was distributed.
Since the stories about the misuse of the payment began to circulate last year, pressure on the guilty to hand it back has mounted. The best known case is Harvey Norman. Reacting to the avers publicity, they have decided to hand back what they were given.
This should not hide the fact that most are not returning what they had wrongly taken.
Those who argue that the practice is legitimate, should consider that it took place in the context of a severe pandemic crisis and Australians suffering a new level of hardship. The amount they took means there was that much less to go to people in real need. How can anyone justify this and still hold a straight face?
The politicians who turn a blind eye to this are the most reprehensible. They have allowed the biggest scam in Australian history.
Is there a connection between the surfacing of news about the scam and the refusal to provide a JobKeeper payments to those genuinely missing out in this year’s lockdowns?
We must ask, why JobKeeper was not provided with a mechanism to recoup money from companies where their records show they are doing well? Was it because this was always a backdoor to handing money over to mates?
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has justified allowing these companies to get away with it, by suggesting that jobs were saved. He failed to explain how. Enterprises with rising turnover are not prone to cutting their workforce, and there are indications, that a substantial part of the money was used to pay dividends to billionaire shareholders and millionaire CEOs.
This is but one example of the recent explosion of corporate welfare. It stinks all the more, when it comes along with a simultaneous downward spiral in social security payments in real terms, for to the unemployed, single parents, Age pensioners, disability payments, students, and First Australians.
Pressure moved Harvey Harvey Norman to pay back. Maybe outing other companies would force other to follow.
If we want an end to corporate welfare, Australia’s got to make this loud and clear.