Thursday, 12 August 2021
JobKeeper Payment; Tabling
I am not verballing the minister at all. He has stood at the table in the Senate and said that this is a good thing, that this money became a stimulus package. That is not what it was intended for. It was never intended for that. The minister tries to rewrite history. We can go back to the Hansard and we can see what he said. We can see what the government said when they introduced JobKeeper, and they definitely didn't say at the time that this money was for stimulating the economy, for executive bonuses or for investors. That's not what was said back when the JobKeeper scheme was presented to this parliament. It's not appropriate to rewrite history and suggest that that is what it was for. This parliament would never have agreed to that.
We were cognisant that there were companies in difficulty and we needed to help them. I have nothing adverse to say about companies who took that help and used it to make sure that they could retain their business and they could retain their employees. I have no gripes about that at all, only about circumstances where companies took the money and made larger profits. At that point, the CEOs and the directors of these companies ought to have been saying: 'What is the right thing for my company to do? Should I keep this taxpayer money, which was given to me for a purpose for which I haven't used it, or should I return it?'
That is the point of the transparency measure proposed through the order for the production of documents—to lay out on the table who got what. Other people can then look at it, and companies may have to answer for their own conduct. I don't think anyone is going to go after companies that really did struggle. We know which companies struggled through the pandemic, and we know which companies thrived. Transparency is like this: you turn on the lights and you see the cockroaches scurry across the floor. That's what it's about. Hopefully, we squash a few of them. It is not okay for the government to simply stand up and say it was okay to take this money. It's not okay for the government to try and hide this information when, in actual fact, it is not company information at all. It is simply the amount of taxpayer money that was provided to a company, and taxpayers have a right to know about that.
Go and have a look at the New Zealand site. You can type in any company name. It doesn't matter whether it's the newsagent down the road, a printing company, a medical company or a travel company—it doesn't matter. You can type in 'Qantas'. You can type in 'Air New Zealand'. You can see how much of their equivalent of JobKeeper was received by those companies. It hasn't blown up the New Zealand tax system, it hasn't harmed the companies, but it has made sure that taxpayers' money has been spent wisely and it has encouraged companies in New Zealand to return the money. I just don't see, for the life of me, how the government thinks it is reasonable to shut the doors on this—to shut the doors on money the taxpayer paid to these companies.
It's taxpayers' money. It's not the money the company earned through its business operations. It's not the amount of profit they made. It's not the amount of tax that was returned to them as a result of a tax submission. It's simply the amount of money that taxpayers provided to these companies for help. It's not unreasonable to disclose that. I don't accept the public interest immunity claim advanced by the tax commissioner. I already have a notice of motion lodged in relation to this. I will be asking the Senate to insist upon the OPD being complied with. Beyond that, let's hope the commissioner follows the process. I don't criticise him at this point in time. He has advanced his public interest immunity claim. I hope the Senate backs the rejection of that. If that occurs, I will use everything possible to make sure that the Senate order is enforced.
Question agreed to.