The revelation that the cost of JobKeeper has been halved has sent shock waves through Canberra as pollies grapple with the decision of whether to spend the savings.
It turns out that the government’s “targeted, measured, and scalable” stimulus measures were only targeted and scalable after the discovery of a $60 billion bungle that saw some 500 businesses apply for payments for 1500 employees rather than one. While there’s no denying that the JobKeeper savings are a good thing, the question now is whether those savings should be spent.
“Instead of cutting JobKeeper, why not expand it to all the casuals and people on temporary visas who need it?” said GetUp national director Paul Ooosting. “The funds are literally all there. JobKeeper was proof that the money for social spending was always there. There’s no justification to cut these vital funds that are keeping food on the table for families across the country.
“This has been one of the government’s biggest policy failures in this pandemic. Now they have the opportunity to step up and do the right thing.”
Of course, given the government was going to work itself into a massive deficit to pay for its fiscal support measures, the $60 billion in savings doesn’t technically exist. But that hasn’t stopped Labor senator Penny Wong calling for Treasurer Frydenberg to appear before the senate’s COVID-19 inquiry to explain the blunder and for the government to use the unexpected savings to expand JobKeeper to casuals.
“This is a $60 billion black hole in the economic credibility of the Morrison government,” Ms Wong said on the ABC. “$60 billion of reasons why we can't trust anything Scott Morrison or Josh Frydenberg say about the economy or the budget and perhaps worse…has been the failure to front up and take responsibility.”
Frydenberg bashing has quickly become the pastime du jour for the Labor party, with every decision the treasurer has made in recent memory now under the microscope.
“At $13.2B it is still the case that people have spent more from their own Superannuation than the Government has spent on JobKeeper,” said shadow assistant treasurer Stephen Jones. “The Coalition are forcing people to raid their retirement saving because they’ve bungled the JobKeeper scheme.”
But Frydenberg himself has refused to be drawn on the issue of whether the imaginary $70 billion should be spent, instead choosing the well-trodden path of characterising a massive policy failure as “good news for the taxpayer”.
“The reason why we’ve seen less people on the JobKeeper payment is because the economy has not deteriorated as much as Treasury thought when they were putting together their forecast,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has now taken full responsibility for the bungle, presumably after discovering that the borders were closed and that escaping to Hawaii was impossible.
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