ASIC’s new chair has been accused of potentially allowing big corporates to obfuscate on JobKeeper disclosure.
During Friday’s standing committee on economics hearing, ASIC representatives, including chair Joseph Longo, were grilled about Premier Investments and the company’s purported disregard of JobKeeper reporting requirements.
Namely, in directing the question, MP Andrew Leigh said Premier Investments had chosen not to disclose $100 million in JobKeeper receipts, essentially “underreporting tens of millions of dollars”.
“The back of my envelope says that Premier Investments got over a $100 million in JobKeeper, but they haven’t disclosed that, unlike almost every other listed company, why is it one rule for Premier and other rules for everyone else?” Mr Leigh said.
But, in providing her answer, ASIC commissioner Cathie Armour argued that the sum in question may not be “material”, noting that a company’s duty to report JobKeeper could depend on its circumstances at the time, its relative size and net position.
Mr Longo agreed, adding that “tens of millions may not be necessarily a material number for a lot of our listed companies”.
But Mr Leigh was not satisfied, accusing Mr Longo of suggesting that ASIC would not act despite being aware that a big company had potentially made an error weighing “tens of millions of dollars” in their financial report.
Going a step further, Mr Leigh said Mr Longo’s frame of mind precedes the royal commission.
“I would ask you if you could have another look at this and really think about whether a mistake, which I think could be in the order of $50 million, is something you would regard as immaterial,” Mr Leigh continued.
The debate around JobKeeper disclosure and the potential benefits profitable big businesses received have been at the centre of heated debate for some time. Most recently, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that Treasury analysis showed more payment went to smaller outfits than major firms.
“What this data demonstrates is that JobKeeper overwhelmingly benefited small businesses, medium businesses, charities and not for profits,” he told Sky News on Friday.
Part of the argument against the government’s perceived unwillingness to pressure profitable big corporates to return JobKeeper is that people who wrongfully received welfare payments are being pursued by the government’s debt collectors.
In fact, fresh figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) revealed just last month that 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.
Labor, alongside independent senator Rex Patrick, has been demanding greater transparency around JobKeeper, including public disclosure of big companies’ receipts.
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