The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has launched a probe into the federal government’s key coronavirus support measure JobKeeper.
Overnight, the ANAO announced an audit into the Australian Taxation Office’s handling of the wage subsidy scheme over the pandemic.
The audit will focus on the tax office’s ability to enforce the rules, monitoring and reporting and measures to protect the program’s integrity from fraud and false claims.
JobKeeper at the beginning of the pandemic supported workers with a $1500 fortnightly payment, which has been reduced to $1000 and $650 for employees working less than 20 hours.
Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh has been calling for the Auditor-General to review the scheme, which has been available to small businesses and some large commercial groups such as Harvey Norman, Premier Investments and Qantas.
“JobKeeper is the biggest single program ever run by the Australian government, so it’s vital that it gets proper scrutiny,” Dr Leigh said.
“The Morrison government has been extremely secretive about JobKeeper. They’ve refused to tell the public how much JobKeeper was paid to firms that increased their profits in 2020, and refused to say how much went to firms that paid executive bonuses.”
Several companies have pledged to return JobKeeper payments if a profit has been generated during the pandemic.
Domino’s Pizza last Friday announced it would hand back $792,000 to the taxpayer, saying the need for the support had passed.
Toyota Australia and Super Retail Group, the owner of Super Cheap Auto and Rebel Sport, have also decided to hand back payments to the ATO.
The ATO during the scheme said it was investigating businesses making fraudulent claims and attempting to rort the system.
Dr Leigh questioned why the companies such as Harvey Norman and Premier Investments have been able to access the scheme while boasting huge rises in revenue during 2020.
“Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments has paid a $2.5m bonus to its CEO – more than most Australians will earn in a lifetime,” Dr Leigh said.
“Gerry Harvey has said: ‘This is like the greatest boom I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.’ So why doesn’t Harvey Norman need taxpayer support?”
In a note released on January 13, Premier Investment flagged it was expecting earnings before tax and interest for the first half of the current financial year to be in the range of $221m to $233m, a rise of up to 85 per cent on the previous period.