Retail powerhouse Premier Investments says it will pay back $15.6 million in JobKeeper after dodging the suggestion earlier this year

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  • Australian retail giant Premier Investments says it will reimburse the $15.6 million in unused JobKeeper subsidies after reporting massive profits.
  • The group kept accrued JobKeeper payments as ‘insurance’ to cover employees impacted by snap lockdowns, but found those taxpayer funds were “ultimately not required”.
  • Labor MP Andrew Leigh says the reimbursement “should be just the start” given the group’s massive profits.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australian retail giant Premier Investments says it will handball some $15.6 million of unneeded JobKeeper payments back to the Australian Tax Office, after the group triumphed through COVID-19 restrictions and almost doubled its half-yearly profits to $188 million.

In a Monday ASX announcement, Premier Investments, which oversees brands like Just Jeans, Smiggle, and Peter Alexander, said it will voluntarily reimburse the JobKeeper funds it accrued through the first half of the financial year.

Premier Investments said it set aside those funds as de facto ‘insurance’ to reimburse any staff impacted by snap COVID-19 lockdowns early this year.

While staff at Premier Investment brands were sidelined during short lockdowns in Queensland and Western Australia and paid with those “quarantined” funds, the retail juggernaut deemed its post-lockdown profits were more than sufficient to cover those labour costs.

“Critically, following the lockdowns and upon reopening, increased trading from the combined States has fully offset the cost of supporting our teams through these lockdowns,” Premier Investments said.

“Therefore, the “JobKeeper 1″ funds were ultimately not required to support our teams.”

Premier Investments has faced severe criticism for its receipt of JobKeeper payments while profiting massively through pandemic restrictions.

The Federal Government’s $90 billion JobKeeper subsidy, which wound down at the end of March, was designed to keep employees on the books as businesses entered mandatory shutdowns.

Despite an initial downturn in revenue which allowed Premier Investments to qualify for the scheme, the firm was one of many which eventually flourished through the crisis; in addition to generous brick-and-mortar sales, Premier Investments’ online sales rose more than 61% over the final six months of 2020.

Premier Investment’s gesture will be warmly welcomed by the Federal Government, which has repeatedly said JobKeeper repayments are non-compulsory. A growing list of uber-profitable firms have offered to hand back those subsidies.

But the Sydney Morning Herald reports Premier Investments was at one point eligible to claim some $110 million in JobKeeper payments.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who has long called for further accountability over the taxpayer-funded scheme, today said Premier Investments’ $15.6 million repayment “should be just the start.”

Citing Premier Investment’s management bonuses, and a dividend which reportedly stood to benefit billionaire chairman Solomon Lew to the tune of $21 million, Leigh said, “They don’t need a single dollar of corporate welfare.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt today revealed his party would push for the upcoming Federal Budget to reveal which massively profitable firms retained their JobKeeper payouts.

“If you’re making enough money to buy a private jet or pay executive bonuses, then you can pay back JobKeeper,” he told the Canberra Times.

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