This is a hands-off government. It’s a nothing-to-see-here government. It’s a how-dare-you-question-us government. A government of the spreadsheet, for the spreadsheet of their own self-interest. A government that is always there for friendly companies who could use $80 million for water that never arrives; or $30 million for Leppington land that’s worth a tenth of that – but never, never there for those doing it tough.
Mr Wilson (5:27pm) – Deputy Speaker, I’m grateful to the Member for Fenner for bringing this important motion forward for debate – and I urge anyone whose watching or listening to get behind his efforts to scrutinise the uneven and unfair application of JobKeeper.
You’d think the government might do that in relation to the largest one-off commitment of taxpayers’ funds in Australia’s history, but unfortunately you’d be wrong.
There is a basic obligation on government to take action that is necessary and effective; but to do so in a way that is honest and fair.
After being dragged by Labor to accept the need for a wage subsidy in the face of a pandemic, the Morrison government has delivered a program that is full of holes and replete with blindspots.
No support for universities; no support for arts and cultural workers; no support for local government employees; and no support for nearly a million casuals in Australia at a time of pandemic.
- Crown Casino received $111 million dollars in JobKeeper yet paid a dividend to shareholders of $203 million.
- Harvey Norman, whose profit jumped 160%, received $9 million dollars in JobKeeper support, but then paid $75 million dollars in dividends.
- And Premier Investments – a retail conglomerate that includes Just Jeans, Portmans etc – received more than $40 million dollars in Jobkeeper support – but made a bigger profit in 2020 than in 2019, and paid out $57 million dollars in dividends, of which the Chairman Solomon Lew alone received $24 million dollars.
But when it comes to large profitable companies; companies that actually increased their profit through the pandemic – they have been well looked after, they have received tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. And as a result they’ve paid enormous dividends and executive bonuses.
In the circumstances of a pandemic, with economic pain and suffering all round, those companies received $160 million dollars of taxpayer-funded support they clearly did not need.
And what does the Prime Minister say about that situation? He said: “Now if there are some companies that feel that they want to hand that back, great. Good for them.”
Good for them.
And what did the Minister for Human Services say about the people the government had wrongly and illegally targeted with the industrial-scale cruelty of Robodebt? He said: “We’ll find you, we’ll track you down, you will have to pay those debts, you may end up in prison.”
No good for poor people, no good for disadvantaged Australians, obviously. For veterans and disability pensioners and the unemployed. Not good for them. For them: threats, collection letters, legal action. For them: penury, deprivation, and despair.
Deputy Speaker, as millions of Australians have struggled through this pandemic – lost jobs, lost wages, been forced to ransack their superannuation in a falling market – the billionaires of Australia have seen their wealth increase by 50 per cent.
How can that be right? And how can a government program contribute to that kind of grotesque outcome?
Those massive holes and blindspots – the squeezing of those who have least; and taxpayer-funded sunshine for those who have plenty – corresponds exactly to the value system of this government.
We’ve seen it from the beginning. It goes back to Joe Hockey and their concept of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’.
And while they peddle the rubbish about transcending ideology and occupying the magical world of the pragmatic middle ground – look at the reality.
Business tax cuts that never trickle down. Penalty rate cuts that result in no new jobs. Wages as a share of national income at a 50-year low. Unemployment support below the poverty line. One quarter, fully one quarter of all single-parent households below the poverty line.
At the same time, tax cuts for profitable big businesses. Personal tax cuts, the vast majority of which benefit high-income earners. And taxpayer-funded handouts to businesses whose profits have gone up.
Deputy Speaker, this is a hands-off government. It’s a nothing-to-see-here government. It’s a how-dare-you-question-us government. A government of the spreadsheet, for the spreadsheet of their own self-interest. A government that is always there for friendly companies who could use $80 million for water that never arrives; or $30 million for Leppington land that’s worth a tenth of that – but never, never there for those doing it tough.
Millions of dollars’ worth of carrots for those doing well. And for those doing it tough, it’s always the stick.
I know what the government will say, they always get wounded and indignant and they say ‘we reject the politics of envy’.
And in the meantime, Solomon Lew pockets $24 million, while a million unemployed Australians crunch back down to $40 a day.
In the meantime, Australian billionaires grow their wealth by 50 per cent in a single year, while 17,000 university workers lose their jobs and a million casuals are denied support.
What will the Prime Minister do? He’ll get angry, he’ll get defensive, he will say, we’re not into class warfare. Not half, they’re not.