Once a critical lifeline, now potentially the biggest budget dump in history – the government’s JobKeeper spend is at the centre of fierce criticism following revelations that $13 billion went to companies that didn’t need it.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), the government handed over $13 billion in JobKeeper payments to profitable companies.
In total, more than 13 per cent of JobKeeper’s entire worth went to 195,381 large companies that clocked a profit between 1 April and 30 September 2020.
Asked about the “biggest budget waste in Australia’s history”, as Labor has since termed it, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stressed the value of JobKeeper on Nine’s Today Show on Monday, confidently stating that it “helped save the nation”.
“According to the Reserve Bank, it’s saved more than 700,000 jobs. According to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, it was a remarkable program. And we do know that it helped see the very strong economic rebound where our unemployment rate today is at 4.6 per cent,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“Now, if you’re a public company, you need to disclose the amount of money that you got for JobKeeper. But if you’re a private company, your tax information is actually that. It’s private.”
Undeterred by Labor’s frank assessment, the Treasurer accused the opposition of seeking to expose the private tax details of every small business across the country.
Just last week, the Treasurer lodged an attempt to block a Senate order, moved by independent senator Rex Patrick, that would have required the Tax Commissioner to publish details related to the payment of JobKeeper to large companies. The Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan, has confirmed he will wait for the Senate to determine whether the Treasurer’s public interest immunity claim would be accepted before publishing the details.
“You have heard from the Tax Commissioner that that would be a very, very bad development, and it would be a very, very bad precedent,” Mr Frydenberg said on Monday.
“With respect to businesses that didn’t have a turnover that was down by more than 30 per cent, Treasury have done their own assessment and found that the program was very targeted, that it did focus on companies that had a large reduction in turnover.”
The PBO’s most recent analysis was commissioned by shadow assistant minister for Treasury Andrew Leigh.
It follows an earlier release of an Ownership Matters report, which revealed that as many as 58 of the 66 ASX 300 companies that received JobKeeper between July and December last year reported positive earnings.
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