‘Overly generous rules’: New JobKeeper analysis suggests billions in taxpayer money went to big companies which never saw their revenue plummet

‘Overly generous rules’: New JobKeeper analysis suggests billions in taxpayer money went to big companies which never saw their revenue plummet
Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)
  • A new JobKeeper analysis suggests some two per cent of recipient firms may have accrued 20 per cent of the total taxpayer subsidy.
  • Corporate governance group Ownership Matters says firms with turnover of greater than $10 million, which never saw their revenues fall below predicted levels, may have accrued $6.2 billion.
  • The scheme was subject to “bugger-all rorting” but “overly generous rules”, the group said Tuesday.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Around two per cent of companies which claimed the JobKeeper wage subsidy may have received nearly twenty per cent of the taxpayer funds administered through the scheme, according to a new analysis of the $90 billion program.

Citing a new rundown of Parliamentary Budget Office data by corporate governance advisory group Ownership Matters, the ABC reports some 20,000 firms with an annual turnover of greater than $10 million claimed the payment through 2020.

They represent some two per cent of businesses which signed up to JobKeeper — a payment which started as a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy for workers forced off the job through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With an average staff of 40, these businesses may have accrued up to $20 billion in taxpayer funds through JobKeeper, Ownership Matters suggests.

Under the original JobKeeper criteria, most applicants had to predict or demonstrate a revenue downturn of at least 30 per cent. Firms with an annual turnover of greater than $1 billion had to predict a drop of 50%.

Ownership Matters says that some $6.2 billion in JobKeeper subsidies were provided to companies with greater than $10 million in annual turnover which never actually faced those predicted revenue downturns.

Despite analysis suggesting billions in taxpayer funds went to companies which ultimately did not need the support, the federal government has defended the scheme’s implementation — including its lack of ‘clawback’ provisions, which would compel profitable companies to return JobKeeper payments back to government coffers.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has long opposed calls to seek JobKeeper repayments, claiming jobs would have been lost without its generous provisions.

But the latest estimates have emboldened politicians like independent Senator Rex Patrick, who has campaigned for JobKeeper recipients to be listed on a public register.

Responding to the ABC report, Patrick said adding those companies to a public register would encourage them to repay the taxpayer largesse.

“Disclosure of the total amount of #JobKeeper money provided to big businesses, as has been done in NZ, will help encourage those who took advantage of taxpayers’ generosity, but didn’t actually need it, to pay the money back,” Patrick tweeted.

Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury Andrew Leigh has also chimed in, saying small business owners which turned down JobKeeper payments once their revenue improved are “rightfully angry that big foreign firms with rising profits got millions”.

An earlier analysis of Parliamentary Budget Office data, conducted by Leigh, suggested that $13 billion in JobKeeper funding went to businesses of all sizes which actually boosted their profits through 2020.

Speaking in Townsville on Tuesday, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said JobKeeper was “a good idea badly mangled by this Treasurer”.

“The Parliament wanted wage subsidies to do some good in the economy,” he continued.

“What the Treasurer did instead was to implement this program in a way that $13 billion was wasted at the same time as small businesses and workers in tourism and other important industries went begging.”

Separately, Ownership Matters said JobKeeper was subject to “bugger-all rorting” but “overly generous rules”.