Politics Analysis

Profits before people: Corporate greed set to continue

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

More and more Australians are facing crippling poverty while many corporations continue to rake in the money but still claim government handouts like JobKeeper, writes managing editor Michelle Pini.

FOR MANY AUSTRALIANS, the post-pandemic economic outlook is dire, with the cost of living skyrocketing but wages remaining comparatively stagnant, on top of rising unemployment and a housing crisis. The less fortunate among us are facing crippling poverty and homelessness.

In the meantime, the RBA, which managed to keep interest levels at record lows throughout the Morrison regime, has suddenly become trigger-happy, lifting rates at every available juncture (barring one) since Labor came into power last May.

Then there are the corporations that pocketed millions in JobKeeper subsidies designed to keep people employed, sacked staff anyway, paid their CEOs eye-watering bonuses and then, far from demonstrating the requisite 30 per cent downturn in turnover, posted massive profits.

The combined effect of excessive JobKeeper subsidies, together with the previously maintained, rock-bottom interest rates, also pushed inflation three percentage points higher than it needed to be, according to new research. 

At the same time, however, some companies are posting record profits while simultaneously bemoaning any government policies aimed at easing soaring cost of living pressures.

This week, we saw Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey actually moved to tears over the Federal Government’s proposed changes to the rules governing the cost of prescription medication. According to Twomey, despite this latest move not yet being implemented, it is responsible for two pharmacies going under and probably the end of life as we know it. Oh, and also, apparently, Labor Party senators and MPs "don't give a shit". 

Unfortunately, Twomey wasn't quizzed about the fact that pharmacies were one of the few sectors to remain open during the pandemic. Nor did he volunteer information on the peak body's earlier admission that the COVID crisis did not harm their businesses even slightly and actually increased overall profits, all while many still pocketed JobKeeper payments.

The Albanese Government's (GP-backed) changes to PBS medications will lower costs and improve quality of life for many vulnerable Australians subsisting below the poverty line, by reducing pharmacy visits from an average of 12 to six times a year for chronic disease sufferers, benefiting the most vulnerable Australians and creating $1.2 billion in savings for patients. 

Reducing the number of pharmacy visits for those with chronic illnesses is hardly likely to cripple the levels of profit Guild members continue to enjoy and is a far cry (pardon the pun) from the billions in assorted Government subsidies and protections doled out to the industry over many years, of which JobKeeper is only a small part.

However, Twomey also did not pause his teary outburst to illuminate us of the Government's assurance to the Guild that any savings will be invested directly back into pharmacies or that, regardless of this assurance, the Guild will continue to fight the move, anyway.

Of course, the pharmacy sector is not alone in crying poor, pocketing government handouts but then raking in the money.

As previously reported on IA, Harvey Norman, Crown Resorts, Seven West Media and News Corp were among the many huge organisations that enjoyed massive JobKeeper handouts without the requisite downturn in revenue.

And Qantas posted a six-month after-tax profit of $1 billion for the last half-year and was by far the biggest JobKeeper recipient – pocketing over $856 million over two years and a total of $2 billion in taxpayer funds. Notwithstanding its massive increase in revenue rather than experiencing any downturn at all, Qantas added insult to injury by still sacking over 6,000 employees.  

None of this stopped Qantas from begrudging its remaining staff any improvement in working conditions.

As TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine explained

“Every trick in the Qantas book deliberately undermines the enterprise bargaining system, fragments the workforce and gives Qantas great commercial power over workers’ pay and conditions from afar through cut-price contracts with labour providers.”

Meanwhile, the airline became a parody of its once-envied position as an exemplar of industry excellence, bungling flight schedules, losing everyone’s luggage and generally failing at serving the Australian public.

In recognition of his inability to manage the day-to-day business of the airline as well as rorting taxpayers and firing employees, outgoing CEO Alan Joyce’s earnings increased. His annual salary rose to $2.1 million, plus bonuses to the tune of $4 million for the last financial year and an additionallong-term bonus of $5 million. Qantas shareholders voted in favour of the extra windfall for Joyce in the same week that Choice awarded the company a "Shonky" for "being the Spirit of Disappointment". 

It’s a great gig if you can get it.

For the most part, small businesses, such as Independent Australia, that do not enjoy advice from on-call corporate legal teams, JobKeeper conditions were taken at face value. While we genuinely experienced a big downturn, we were unsure if we would meet the 30 per cent loss of revenue eligibility criteria demanded by JobKeeper. We believed the Morrison Government's threats of crackdowns for any companies that received benefits but did not meet this prerequisite and so, we did not apply.

Of course, no action was taken for corporate businesses that received JobKeeper under false pretences. Morrison famously dismissed Labor's calls for companies to pay back overpayments with claims of "politics of envy". 

As a result, small businesses that tried to do the right thing, not only missed out on JobKeeper assistance but in the case of media outlets like IA, still had to compete with large media corporations that received this latest, additional handout.

Of course, no action was taken for corporate businesses that received JobKeeper under false pretences. Morrison famously dismissed Labor's calls for companies to pay back overpayments, claiming they were the result of the "politics of envy". 

Apart from the obvious cost to taxpayers of these government-sanctioned rorts, there is also the cost of a perpetually stretched Federal Budget forever attempting to satisfy this insatiable corporate greed but never quite managing to lift from despair, the estimated 3.3 million Australians (including 760,000 children) now living in poverty. 

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter – usually only available to subscribers – and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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