Executives paid millions as top companies refuse to pay back JobKeeper

Seven CEO James Warburton (left) received a $1.01 million bonus in 2020-21.

Seven CEO James Warburton (left) received a $1.01 million bonus in 2020-21. Photo: AAP

Profitable companies that received millions of dollars in JobKeeper are handing big bonuses to executives as the government chases down debts from pensioners and job seekers.

The 2020-21 corporate earnings season is in full flight and less than 12 months after raking in millions from JobKeeper, companies like Seven West Media, ARB and Nick Scali are rewarding their executives.

Seven chief James Warburton declared his station the “number one” in TV on Monday after unveiling a $318 million annual net profit.

The company still refuses to repay more than $50 million in JobKeeper payments.

But it paid Mr Warburton a huge $1.01 million bonus.

In total, the company paid $1.89 million in executive bonuses last financial year.

That’s enough to pay the bills of hundreds of pensioners who are being chased by the Morrison government for JobKeeper overpayments.

As reported last week, more than 11,000 people received debt notices over $32 million in JobKeeper payments to income support recipients.

The government is chasing the bill despite deciding not to pursue large public firms for JobKeeper, in what Labor has called a double standard.

JobKeeping it in the family

The capacity of more than 65 ASX-listed companies to repay JobKeeper continues to increase as they book even higher profits over the reporting season.

Companies that took JobKeeper last year are paying out more money to shareholders despite leaving taxpayers in the lurch for millions.

Although Seven has refrained from declaring any dividends in 2020-21, the same can’t be said for 4×4 retailer ARB.

Founded by the Brown family in 1975, the company unveiled a 97 per cent rise in annual net profits to $112 million on Tuesday.

As a result, it announced a new $31.7 million dividend, taking total investor returns to $71 million since April 2020.

Although chair Roger Brown and managing director Andrew Brown were paid no bonuses, the family received $12 million in dividend payments.

It comes after another family business, furniture retailer Nick Scali, refused to repay JobKeeper in full despite more than doubling its profits.

Chief executive Anthony Scali has been paid millions of dollars in dividends as a large shareholder and also earned a $750,000 bonus last financial year.

JobKeeper secrets under wraps

Although public companies have come under scrutiny for paying millions of dollars to investors despite taking JobKeeper, many more private firms took the wage subsidies without needing them.

We don’t know how much these companies took, as unlike New Zealand there is no public register listing the recipients in Australia. But research has indicated it runs into the tens of billions of dollars.

Ongoing efforts to force the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to dish the dirt ran into a hurdle last week when commissioner Chris Jordan refused a Senate order to produce a list of JobKeeper companies.

The ATO has argued providing such a list would undermine confidence in the tax system, but key senators have disagreed, setting the stage for a public battle with the Tax Office when parliament resumes – lockdown permitting – next week.

As TND reported in January, the ATO has kept extensive records of the companies that received JobKeeper, as well as how much revenue each made on a monthly basis for as long as they were eligible.

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