Rex Patrick slams government for not forcing JobKeeper paybacks

Senators Simon Birmingham and Rex Patrick clashed over the JobKeeper wage subsidy during estimates hearings on Wednesday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Senators Simon Birmingham and Rex Patrick clashed over the JobKeeper wage subsidy during estimates hearings on Wednesday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

An independent senator has slammed the Morrison government for allowing profit-making companies to keep millions in JobKeeper subsidies, describing it as "offensive" to Australian taxpayers.

In a heated exchange with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham during Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday afternoon, Rex Patrick said the government was effectively giving money away to a "select group of people" by not forcing booming businesses to hand back the subsidies.

Senator Birmingham accused his fellow South Australian of chasing "a radio grab" as he again defended the $100 billion program.

While a number of major companies have agreed to repay JobKeeper after posting profits and paying out shareholder dividends, others - including Gerry Harvey's Harvey Norman - have resisted the public and political pressure and refused to repay the taxpayer funds received throughout the pandemic.

Companies were eligible for the first phase of JobKeeper if they were expecting turnover to drop substantially during the economic crisis.

Some recipients fared far better than they had anticipated, meaning they were receiving government subsidies while recording profits.

Senator Patrick did not specifically accuse the companies of breaking the law, instead lashing the government for not attempting to recover taxpayer funds handed to businesses which have performed strongly through the pandemic-induced recession.

"You're taking taxpayer money and giving it to a select group of people and I cannot find any reasonable proposition that would justify it," he said.

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Senator Birmingham accused Senator Patrick of chasing media attention - a comment which drew a stinging response.

"I might just distribute it [the radio "grab"] right throughout South Australia so that people understand the immoral position taken by the government in respect of taking taxpayers' money and just giving it away," Senator Patrick said.

He said his constituents would be offended by the government's inaction.

"You are simply giving money away that does not belong to you," he said.

Senator Birmingham insisted the government would not retrospectively change the eligibility criteria for the program, saying such a move would create uncertainty for the same businesses being relied upon to help Australia's economic recovery.

However, he said there was an expectation that well-performing companies would create extra jobs and repay Australians through lower prices for consumers.

Senator Birmingham talked up the success of the JobKeeper program, reminding Senator Patrick of the Reserve Bank's estimate that the wage subsidy lifeline had saved some 700,000 jobs through the economic crisis.

The program will end on March 28.

This story 'Immoral': Patrick slams government for not forcing JobKeeper paybacks first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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