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Australians want JobKeeper overpayments given back to taxpayers

Twenty-seven per cent said they were undecided or neutral on the issue. Just 9 per cent said they were opposed, 3 percentage points of which were strongly opposed. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 per cent.

Andrew Leigh says JobKeeper overpayments are the “single biggest waste of money in Australian history”.

Andrew Leigh says JobKeeper overpayments are the “single biggest waste of money in Australian history”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh said more JobKeeper money had gone to companies with increased earnings than the federal government spent on public schools every year.

He said while similar schemes in the United States and New Zealand required the public release of information on how much taxpayers’ money had gone to companies, in Australia it was still secret.

“JobKeeper overpayment is the single biggest waste of money in Australian history, and the Morrison government won’t do a thing to make it right,” he said. “The Morrison government is yet to explain how giving money to firms with rising earnings saved a single job. Bucketloads of taxpayer money funded bonuses for millionaire CEOs and dividends for billionaire shareholders.”

This week, the government pushed back against Senate demands for the release of information from the Australian Tax Office that would include a list of employers with annual turnover of more than $10 million that received JobKeeper, the number of people they employed and the amount of JobKeeper they received.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Senate that to release the information would “prejudice the commercial interests” of businesses that received JobKeeper. He noted it could also put competitive pressures on businesses, particularly privately held firms.

Labor and crossbench senators plan to amend a piece of tax legislation the government is trying to push through the Senate. That amendment is in line with its demand to the ATO to release information about companies receiving JobKeeper.

Debate on that legislation, which affects the tax deductibility status of gifts and the nation’s Offshore Banking Unit, was abruptly ended this week with concerns growing in the government that the proposed amendments will be passed by the Senate.

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If passed, the government will have to decide whether to abandon its tax changes or allow more transparency around JobKeeper.

Independent senator Rex Patrick said the public had a right to know how much public money was flowing to companies.

“Jobkeeper was a wage subsidy scheme for businesses significantly affected by COVID-19. And yet some businesses took it, improved their profits and then paid larger dividends to their shareholders and bonuses to their executives,” he said. “Those companies that abused the taxpayers’ goodwill should pay it back.”

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