Morrison brushes off calls to recoup JobKeeper from thriving businesses, after new report finds ASX-listed giants made soaring profits while receiving wage subsidies

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  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again brushed off calls for profitable businesses to repay the JobKeeper subsidies they accrued.
  • His statement follows a new report which claims a fifth of the JobKeeper payments made to Australia’s biggest ASX-listed companies wound up in the accounts of profitable businesses.
  • Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who has long called for further accountability in the multi-billion dollar scheme, asked “why is Morrison spending taxpayer dollars to subsidise them?”
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again brushed off the suggestion that profitable companies should repay millions in wage subsidies, after a report found a fifth of Australia’s largest ASX-listed JobKeeper recipients recorded profits in the back half of 2020.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Thursday, Morrison was asked if firms which booked major profits through the pandemic should repay the taxpayer subsidies they accrued.

The question built on a new report from corporate advisory group Ownership Matters, which found that of the top 300 ASX-listed companies that claimed JobKeeper in the six months to December 31, 58 reported profits over the same time period.

The report also found 34 of those companies claimed profits above pre-COVID levels, suggesting many once-struggling businesses flourished as pandemic restrictions eased.

Those 34 firms were cleared to receive up to $284 million in JobKeeper subsidies.

A growing list of profitable firms have voluntarily repaid part or all of the subsidies they accrued.

But the Federal Government does not require companies which legitimately qualified for JobKeeper to repay the wage subsidies they received, even if their fortunes miraculously improved later on.

“I have always said that is a matter for those companies, and many have [repaid] and I commend them for doing so,” Morrison said.

“Let’s not forget what JobKeeper was doing,” he added.

“I mean, I would rather have profitable companies than non-profitable companies.”

Report sparks new calls for accountability

The Ownership Matters report has bolstered calls for further government accountability over the multi-billion dollar subsidy program.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who has long called for a public register of firms which profited while receiving JobKeeper subsidies, today chastised the Federal Government for its handling of the scheme — the most expensive market intervention in Australian history.

“The report suggests that $10 to $20 billion in JobKeeper may have gone to firms with rising profits, firms that never needed it, firms that gave it to billionaire shareholders and millionaire CEOs,” Leigh told the House of Representatives.

Leigh said that money could have been used to extend wage subsidies for workers in need of further support, far beyond the scheme’s hard March 28 end date.

In response to Morrison’s statement that profitable companies are preferable to their loss-making counterparts, Leigh said every Australian would agree.

“But why is Morrison spending taxpayer dollars to subsidise them?”

While Leigh has chastised profitable companies like Harvey Norman and retail giant Premier Investments for holding onto the JobKeeper payments they received, Australian businesses have volunteered to repay an estimated $144 million.

The Australian Taxation Office last week said it has received $20 million of that figure.

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