Senate debates

Thursday, 12 August 2021


JobKeeper Payment; Tabling

4:00 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Senate has asked the tax commissioner to provide information about companies that received JobKeeper, asking for some very simple information: which companies received JobKeeper, how much they received in total, and whether or not money has been paid back. This information is not company operational information. It's not company tax information. It's information about what the taxpayer gave to a company. That's what the information is about. It's no different to a grant that might be given to a company, and we would expect complete transparency about any grant money that we give to a company. Likewise, for any contract that we have with a company, we would expect transparency, and the information would be published on AusTender.

The commissioner claims that this information is sensitive. I will give the commissioner credit; unlike in past responses, he actually acknowledges that the Senate has the power to require the production of these documents, but he then advances a public interest immunity claim. The basis upon which he does so is on two fronts. He makes a claim that the information is sensitive, and it is not. It cannot be sensitive. He also makes a claim that, if it were released somehow, it would undermine the tax system and we would have people no longer wanting to talk to the tax office. And both of those reasons fail, because we know that in New Zealand this information has been published. In New Zealand, this information has been published for every company and, as a result of that publication and as a result of that transparency, they have seen five per cent of the total amount of their wage subsidy returned to the government—as opposed to here in Australia where we have only had 0.25 per cent of JobKeeper payments returned from companies.

We know that there are companies out there who have taken this money and who had made an assessment that they were going to have a turnover of either 30 or 50 per cent less than what they had in the previous reporting periods for previous years. That appears to be the only requirement. In fact, the government introduced the scheme and—we are in the middle of a pandemic—it was appropriate to get money to people quickly. But that's no excuse for now looking back and saying: 'There are companies that took the JobKeeper payment, then went on to make bigger profits and paid money to their investors and to their executives. We funnelled taxpayers' money from the wallets of Australians into the bank accounts of investors and executives.' That was not what that money was intended for. It was never intended for that. We have to do something about this. We've seen the experience in New Zealand. When they disclosed this information, companies looked very closely at what happened and they have returned a lot more, in terms of percentage values, back to the New Zealand taxpayer. That's what I think we need to have happen here.

We can't have a situation where Gerry Harvey has received $22 million of taxpayers' money through the JobKeeper scheme, has made record profits and is out buying advertisements on the Australian taxpayer's coin. That's just not right, and it disturbs me. Every time the government stand up and try to defend what has happened, they take a very strict legal perspective. I accept the government's legal perspective. I'm not suggesting any of the companies have broken any laws, but they have breached the moral trust of Australians, and it's our job to make sure that we stand up and highlight exactly what has happened and encourage the government to have this money returned, to signal to these companies that it isn't acceptable. Right now, every time this is mentioned in the chamber, Senator Birmingham rises and says: 'It's okay. It was great that these companies got that money.'


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