Shadow assistant minister for Treasury Andrew Leigh has told Treasurer Josh Frydenberg that an inquiry would provide transparency on companies who have accessed the wage subsidies but have gone on to post profit spikes and paid out executive bonuses.
“In New Zealand, there’s a public register which lists all of the firms that have received their equivalent of JobKeeper,” Dr Leigh told the ABC.
“In Australia, the government’s refused to disclose that information to the COVID Committee, which is why I’ve written to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg asking for the House economics committee to be empowered to conduct an inquiry into JobKeeper and to get to the bottom of how many firms saw increased profits in 2020 despite receiving JobKeeper.
“The information’s at the fingertips of the Tax Office. They simply need to disclose it to the Australian people.”
Dr Leigh’s call comes after a number of large corporates have announced voluntary JobKeeper repayments in the wake of posting profits for the year.
Pizza chain Domino’s is the latest JobKeeper recipient to return the subsidies, with the ASX-listed business announcing on Friday that it would return the $792,000 it received for its subsidiary printing company early on in the pandemic.
On Wednesday, mineral sands miner Iluka Resources said it would return $13.6 million in JobKeeper wage subsidies, following in the footsteps of Toyota Australia and Super Retail Group, who have voluntarily returned $18 million and $1.7 million, respectively.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Frydenberg have both praised firms returning JobKeeper payments but have noted that there are no legal obligations to do so.
Dr Leigh, however, believes large corporates should put into action their commitment to corporate social responsibility.
“There’s no legal requirement, simply a call for good corporate ethics. These firms all say that they’re committed to good corporate social responsibility, and if they are, then they should do the right thing,” Dr Leigh said.
Dr Leigh also maintained pressure on Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments, which owns a number of retail brands including Portmans, Just Jeans and Smiggle.
“They’re a firm that was doing so well, they could afford to pay their CEO a $2.5 million bonus, doing so well that they paid out a significant dividend — a chunk of which went to their largest billionaire shareholder, Solomon Lew,” Dr Leigh said.
“And yet they won’t return to the taxpayer the JobKeeper subsidies they received which they clearly didn’t need.
“We know about Premier, but we don’t know about many other firms, and it’s important to get to the bottom of it because JobKeeper is the largest and most effective program in keeping people in work.”
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.