Australia

Renewed calls for companies to repay billions in received JobKeeper despite not seeing downturn

There are renewed calls for companies that accrued billions of dollars in JobKeeper payments despite their businesses not suffering a downturn in revenue to pay the money back.

The federal government’s $1,500 a fortnight wage subsidy program was announced last March for businesses hit by COVID-19 lockdowns to contain the virus. 

But new analysis from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office has now revealed $12.5 billion was paid to businesses that didn’t see a shortfall in revenue from April to June last year. 

Some $4.6 billion also flowed to businesses whose turnover increased during this period, according to the analysis.  

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

AAP

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Friday called again for companies in this situation to repay their money. 

“It’s a matter of fairness,” he told reporters. 

“If an individual gets a payment from the government that they’re not entitled to in terms of the need, they have to pay it back.” 

Businesses and charities had to demonstrate either an actual or projected drop in income to qualify for the JobKeeper scheme.  

The PBO’s analysis shows 365,477 had a turnover that did not drop below threshold levels.

The figures also show 157,650 more employers saw turnovers rise during April to June last year compared to the same period in 2019.  

In a statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told SBS News JobKeeper had been highly successful in saving businesses and keeping Australians in work during the COVID-19 recession. 

“I would welcome any business paying back JobKeeper if they are in the position to do so,” he said.

“But the law at the time was very clear as well, and our focus as a government was to get money out the door to support those who were in need.”

Around one million businesses and not-for-profits were receiving JobKeeper by the middle of last year.

The Reserve Bank of Australia found the program helped protect 700,000 jobs.

Parliament is currently examining a Greens bill that would force companies to pay back JobKeeper they received but did not need, and establish a public register of recipients. 

The Australian Shareholders Association told a parliamentary committee on Friday it did not agree with companies “profiteering” from the scheme. 

“We do want the companies to seriously consider repaying those amounts where they have increased in profitability or maintain profitability,” policy and advocacy manager Fiona Balzar said. 

 

Proxy adviser firm Ownership Matters told the committee of nearly $90 billion paid out, just $225 million had been paid back.  

Co-founder Dean Paatsch said 90 per cent of the funds pledged to be returned were from publicly listed ASX companies, which are required to report their earnings.   

The Parliamentary Budget Office figures were obtained using data from the Australian Taxation Office on the request of Labor MP Andrew Leigh.

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