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Corporate welfare for the greedy — Robodebt 2.0 for the needy

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Nothing says “we are the government for big business only” like doling out money for nothing to multinationals with one hand, while simultaneously clawing back cash from the impoverished with the other.

The Morrison Government’s unstated ambition is to plunge to ever more unfathomable depths in order to vex and torment the most vulnerable. This is abundantly evident this week, as it hasn’t even waited until the pandemic is close to over before issuing thousands of debt letters for allegedly overpaid JobKeeper wage subsidies, while publicly writing off the billions overpaid to their corporate cronies under the same scheme.

STEALING FROM THE POOR TO GIVE TO THE RICH

JobKeeper was designed to be paid to businesses that suffered at least a 30 per cent drop in profits from what they would otherwise have achieved. During the rollout of JobKeeper, the Australian Tax Office issued stern warnings that companies would be liable to repay any overpayment made, along with stiff penalties.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, have brazenly told the media there will be no effort by the Commonwealth to recover payments made to corporations who claimed the subsidy before posting mammoth profits.

As IA has reported before, some of these companies even laid off employees after claiming JobKeeper and then dishing out monstrous dividends to shareholders.

Nevertheless, on Monday (9 August), Birmingham indicated the Morrison Government would not be asking companies turning over more than $10 million per annum to return or disclose JobKeeper payments, which were introduced alongside national lockdowns, because it didn't want to “vilify” businesses and it will, instead:

“… keep the names of companies who were overpaid JobKeeper secret.”

The Government has no problem vilifying ordinary citizens, however, national lockdowns notwithstanding. The current move merely continues the heinous precedent set by Robodebt 1.0, in which hundreds of thousands of letters of demand were sent to vulnerable Australians to redeem allegedly overpaid Centrelink payments. In a resounding humiliation for the Morrison Government, the Robodebt debacle was ruled illegal by the Federal Court in 2020 and resulted in Australian taxpayers coughing up an extra $1.2 billion to settle a class action.

True to form, for many months the Government steadfastly refused to offer an apology to the people harmed by this disgraceful failure in public policy, eventually issuing a half-hearted statement of regret. 

Having learnt nothing from this scandalous misadventure, the Coalition Government is also clearly not really sorry, since it is now launching a second round of Robodebt. Services Australia has revealed that 11,771 welfare recipients had debts raised after a review of JobKeeper and income support payments in April.

And the Morrison Government is doing this, just as it refuses to even consider redeeming JobKeeper subsidies overpaid to its favoured recipients: large corporations. 

Greens Leader Adam Bandt told ABC Radio on Monday (9 August) that the Government was putting the pay and profits of billionaires before the very survival of vulnerable Australians:

"It is outrageous that the government refuses to make billionaires and big corporations pay back the money that they clearly didn't need to take from the public purse ...

 

Yet at the same time it is hounding the most vulnerable people in the country who are doing their best to survive the pandemic."

KEEPING UP HARVEY NORMAN'S PROFIT

One of the companies to make a king’s ransom from JobKeeper, is furniture, white goods and electronics giant Harvey Norman.

In the first half of 2020, Harvey Norman collected $22 million from the JobKeeper subsidy and subsequently reported a 25% increase in profits to $462 million, compared to the same period in the previous year. The corporation also recorded a 116% increase in net profits and paid dividends totalling a whopping $249 million.

During this time, while many Australians were struggling to put food on the table, Harvey Norman founder and CEO Gerry Harvey refused to pay this back.

Billionaire Harvey also opposed a 3.5% wage rise for Harvey Norman staff, personally collected a $78 million bonus from his shareholding in the company and then boasted about all of it, referring to the pandemic as:

 “… the greatest boom I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

To add more salt into impoverished Australians' wounds, Harvey is an outspoken critic of welfare — well, for needy recipients anyway, those people he charmingly calls “no-hopers”.

Harvey was quoted in theSydney Morning Herald in 2008 as saying that giving a leg up to people who:

'.. are not putting anything back into the community is like “helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason.'"

MEGA BONUSES FOR ANYONE NOT IN NEED

And Gerry Harvey is not alone. 

[Read about other CEOS raking in the mega bonuses while still claiming JobKeeper handouts in the members-only article HERE.]

If only these instances of misuse of public monies were “hardly normal”, but regrettably they are, indeed, a perfect encapsulation of the Morrison Government’s Soylent Green approach to public policy.

And perhaps the most appropriate summation for this Coalition Government’s attitude to its people comes from Senate Deputy Leader of the Nationals Matt Canavan, whose reprehensible ponderings on the worth of Australian lives were actually published by the once-respected Financial Review:

'Each life saved by the Sydney lockdown costs $330 million. It’s an unjustifiable expense that imposes large and disproportionate burdens on small business and the less well off.'

No one says “we are the government of big business only” like this Morrison Government. 

This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published in the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. The full versions of these articles are only available to Independent Australia subscribers. They may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9 and IA founder and director Dave Donovan @davrosz. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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