Let the JobKeeper rorts roll

Jan 25, 2021

Where do we start when considering the $100 billion JobKeeper scheme? Should we focus on the opaque nature of the scheme in which less than 3% of JobKeeper payments have been disclosed in public company accounts and there is no way of finding out who got what and how much?

Credit – Unsplash

Or is it the fact that JobKeeper has enabled Solly Lew and others to boost profits and pay massive bonuses to senior staff? As Solly also stiffed his landlords, should we be surprised?

Is it the standard operating practice of Morrison rewarding friends – the Catholic Church and Hillsong which both got JobKeeper – while punishing enemies such as universities and the arts which both missed out?

Or is just that rorts – like JobKeeper and corporate welfare generally – are intrinsic parts of the Morrison approach to economics.

Robodebt victims were harassed and victimised and compensation to some of the victims is still being withheld. As usual the Morrison Government has claimed it was all Labor’s fault despite the fact that the system which caused the problems was implemented while Morrison was the responsible Minister.

But then – unlike the Rutte Dutch Government Netherlands which accepted responsibility for a similar debt collection failure and both PM and all Ministers resigned – ‘responsible Minister’ in Morrison’s Australia is an oxymoron.

The inimitable Stephen Mayne ( crikey 19 January 2021) exposed the problems with the JobKeeper scheme and contrasted the actions of Super Retail Group and Toyota Australia who repaid the money given their profit performance with other recipients.

Mayne said:

“The auditor-general should also conduct a full review of the JobKeeper program independent of whatever work parliamentary committees do, and these committees should be able to call witnesses — such as Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, Crown Resorts chief executive Ken Barton, Premier Investments chairman Solomon Lew, and Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes — to explain why their public companies received so much more in JobKeeper payments than other participants from their respective industries.

“If it was good enough for Westfield’s parent company Scentre Group to decide at the outset it would not accept $1 in public subsidies, how did Seven West Media come to receive $40 million when it is controlled by a bloke worth $5 billion and didn’t seem to get anywhere near the qualification of a 50% drop in revenue for a one-month period, which is what those companies turning over more than $1 billion a year were required to show.

“Why has there been so little disclosure on who tapped into the biggest grants program in history.”

In contrast New Zealand has introduce an online system which allows any New Zealander to see who got what under their COVID-19 job protection scheme.

Of course, given the funding cutbacks Morrison has imposed on the Auditor-General and the sheer number and scale of this government’s rorts, corruption and incompetence it already needs to investigate adding JobKeeper might be impossible.

The bigger problem though is the neo-liberal one personified by Morrison – whenever there is a problem throw money at the private sector and claim that will fix it and flow through to workers and the public.

The end results are massive amounts of corporate and middle class welfare which dwarf spending on welfare for ordinary Australians.

Taxpayer subsidies to fossil fuel producers and companies total around $12 billion a year. Negative gearing costs us $13 billion annually and capital gains tax concessions another $11.7 billion.

A 2000 Australia Institute report on subsidies, loans, tax breaks and incentives offered by state and territory governments cost $116 billion and in the past two decades the total has probably multiplied many times over.

In 2018 Anglicare, the peak body for a range of Anglican community services organisations, commissioned Per Capita to analyse how much tax concessions cost the budget relative to welfare.

Anglicare said: “Using Treasury data, as well as various ABS figures and the University of Melbourne’s HILDA survey, Per Capita calculated that major tax concessions totalling $135 billion per year were costing the budget more than the four main welfare payments combined — the aged pension, family assistance payments, disability benefits and Newstart (now JobSeeker).

“In fact, these tax concessions are costing the budget about six times as much as Newstart, a payment even business groups say is too low for job seekers to live on.”

Three years later the same situation applies with JobSeeker – ostensibly because being too generous discourages the unemployed from looking for work although research outlined at the recent virtual annual meeting of the American Economics Association suggest the assumption is highly doubtful and probably ideological rather than evidence-based.

In contrast to the miserly approach to the unemployed The Anglicare research found more than half of the benefit from Australian tax concessions goes to the wealthiest fifth of households. The cost of foregone tax revenue from the richest 20 per cent of Australians was more than $68 billion a year compared with just $6.1 billion in concessions for the bottom 20 per cent. As Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said when the report was released:

“A staggering $68 billion in taxpayer dollars is spent keeping the wealthiest households wealthy. That is greater than the cost of Newstart, disability support, or any other benefit.”

So let’s hear it for a crackdown on all the corporate welfare bludgers. Let’s show some concern for the unemployed and the insecurely and poorly employed. And let’s have full scrutiny of, and accountability for, the Morrison Government’s rorts, corruption and failures.

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