Where did all those JobKeeper billions go? Josh Frydenberg doesn’t seem too curious

Labor MP Andrew Leigh wants the government to launch an inquiry into JobKeeper.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh wants the government to launch an inquiry into JobKeeper. Photo: The New Daily

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been accused of sitting on his hands as profitable companies hand back JobKeeper payments and reports emerge of rorts in the $101.3 billion program.

Pizza giant Domino’s became the latest company to hand back JobKeeper money on Friday, announcing it would repay the $792,000 given to its printing subsidiary.

Chief executive Don Meij said it had used JobKeeper to forgo layoffs at the height of the pandemic last year.

“We appreciate the availability and support of JobKeeper during a period of significant uncertainty. That period has passed, the assistance package has served its purpose, and we return it to Australian taxpayers with our thanks,” he said in a statement.

It came amid calls for greater transparency over the scheme, after reports emerged of employers trying to rort the program by signing up jailed criminals and dead people to the $1500 fortnightly subsidy.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by the ABC revealed the Australian Tax Office (ATO) had almost 6000 applicants under investigation by the end of September, of which a third were found to be ineligible.

The ATO said most of those cases involved employers applying under the wrong ABN, and noted the total scale of rorting (less than 1 per cent) was in line with expectations given the program’s size.

Yet other concerns remain about the number of businesses that used the scheme legally but went on to make outsized profits.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been accused of inaction. Photo: AAP

Treasurer accused of JobKeeper inaction

Labor MP and House Economics Committee deputy chair Andrew Leigh said taxpayers deserved to know where billions of dollars in pandemic handouts ended up.

Dr Leigh wrote to Mr Frydenberg on Wednesday requesting he initiate a parliamentary inquiry into JobKeeper, but the Treasurer has yet to respond.

“We owe it to the Australian taxpayer to be providing careful scrutiny of the JobKeeper program,” Dr Leigh told The New Daily.

“The government should come clean with the data. This is taxpayer money.”

Australia does not maintain a pubic register of JobKeeper recipients, making it impossible to tell how many profitable businesses are holding onto handouts or using them to pay executive bonuses.

The latest move by Domino’s took total JobKeeper returns to government to over $30 million.

Mining business Iluka Resources said it would give back $13.6 million on Wednesday, while Macpac owner Super Retail Group returned $1.7 million last week following a surge in earnings.

Toyota also committed to paying back $18 million earlier this month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has welcomed the repayments, but other businesses have held onto their payments despite enjoying bumper sales as a result of the lockdowns.

Smiggle and Peter Alexander owner Premier Investments, which received $68.7 million in handouts from seven countries during the pandemic, has not handed back a cent to Australian taxpayers.

It also maintained its annual dividend and paid outgoing chief executive Mark McInnes a $2.5 million bonus.

Dr Leigh wants a parliamentary committee to investigate JobKeeper rorts and find out how many profitable companies received the subsidies.

“No single Australian government program has ever cost over $100 billion, so it requires unprecedented scrutiny to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately,” he said.

In a letter to Mr Frydenberg seen by The New Daily, Dr Leigh said the House Economics Committee should examine:

  • The extent to which the design of JobKeeper allowed firms to receive subsidies despite experiencing an increase in profits over 2020
  • The share of firms that have voluntarily repaid JobKeeper
  • The extent to which firms have used JobKeeper to pay executive bonuses.

The Treasurer’s office was contacted for comment but did not respond before publication.

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