Members only: JobKeeper non-disclosure

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his big business patrons are in crisis mode amid rising demands to end the JobKeeper cover-up and disclose the transfer of billions to from average Australians to large and profitable companies. Michael West reports on the unfolding political drama.

2 September 2021 | Michael West, MW Media
Royal Sydney Golf Club (Image: Marcus Reubenstein)

It was a classic sting on Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, indeed a plot to dupe the entire Senate, to trick them into voting for an amendment to make JobKeeper information public – JobKeeper information, that is, which had already been made public.

Liberal senator Michaela Cash rose about 7pm yesterday evening to propose an amendment to a Bill on behalf of Pauline Hanson, an amendment which would compel – and here is the catch – “listed” companies to disclose if they had received Jobkeeper.

“Listed companies” are not very secretive. They are listed on the ASX. They have already disclosed JobKeeper. Some have paid it back, others infamously not.

For weeks, the political temperature had been steadily rising over JobKeeper rorts, amid myriad revelations that millions in subsidies had gone to companies making record profits, forking out fancy bonuses and chunky dividends to their well-heeled shareholders. 

Ritzy golf clubs and elite private schools were in on the action too. Even huge companies with foreign multinational shareholders. This was a corporate heist on a grand scale, the greatest transfer of wealth in history from average Australians to the Top End of Town.

That morning in the Senate chamber, independent senator Rex Patrick had moved to drag the Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan, before the Senate’s Privileges Committee for contempt, potentially a jailable offence. Jordan had refused to furnish the Senate with documents disclosing who got JobKeeper, which large companies got it that is.

Fast-forward to the end of the day, and by the time the Coalition was pulling off its snow-job on One Nation, ABC’s 7.30 Report was just about to go to air hot-to-trot on the angle that, not only did hundreds of companies rort Jobkeeper in the its first incarnation last year, the June quarter; but many were racking up record profits and had the hide to rort the scheme again in the September quarter when the Government extended the scheme to assuage the distress of lockdowns. 

Why were there no “clawback” provisions in Jobkeeper’s design, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was asked by Leigh Sales? Finally, it was dawning across the nation, the ramifications of the big money grab.

There were clawback provisions in other legislation, like social security laws and Robodebt, in the tax legislation too.

By the time Rex Patrick and Labor’s Jenny McAllister rose in the Senate to lambast One Nation for being duped by the Government to keep the cover-up going, Nine Network’s teaser for Sixty Minutes was hitting social media; cue deep voiceover, “The biggest cash grab in Australia’s history … our children will be paying back that money for generations to come …”

The temperature is now at boiling point and large corporations which raked in Jobkeeper and didn’t deserve it, will already be on Zoom with their crisis management consultants working how they can spin their looting the public purse. Surely the Government will have to relent now and publish publicly who got the loot. Surely now business will have to bite the bullet, or else be tarnished for years to come. 

Only the Murdoch media is now left running cover for the Coalition, perversely pushing the line that Opposition Leader Albo is trying to wreck mum and dad businesses by revealing their private financial affairs.   

In any case, Pauline Hanson herself was not in the Senate chamber last night so, after Senator Cash put up her amendment for debate, her fellow One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts spoke for a while about accountability. 

A Hume and Cash hospital pass

It was clear, Roberts and Hanson had been served up a pup by the Libs, they didn’t understand the issues around corporate disclosure, that “listed” companies had already disclosed. Their amendment was no different to new laws proposing last month’s Form Guide be disclosed.

When Roberts finished rambling, Liberal senator Jane Hume hopped up and said: “The Government will be supporting Senator Hanson’s amendment”.

Rex Patrick followed, then Labor’s Jenny McAllister. Neither held back.

“There will be big companies clicking their champagne glasses tonight toasting to Pauline Hanson,” said Patrick.

“It’s a dud … this Bill does not do very much. A lot of these companies which are listed, such as Harvey Norman, have already disclosed.

“Senator Hanson is pushing an amendment to disclose information which is already published.”

Patrick began to list the sort of entities which were still hiding, which did not have to disclose, which were not listed on the Australian sharemarket, which were Australian subsidiaries of foreign multinationals, which were clubs, private schools, political parties.

They’ll be sitting in their private jets thanking One Nation … Treasurer Frydenberg will be getting a pat on the back from them because they have successfully talked down One Nation (from supporting an amendment which required all large companies to disclose – amendments brought separately by both Rex Patrick and Labor’s McAllister.

“It exposes in the most ridiculous way the entirely frivolous approach which One Nation has to actual decision making in this chamber,” said Jenny McAllister. 

The amendment that they have circulated is essentially meaningless; absolutely meaningless because Australian listed companies have already been directed to report government payments, and that includes Jobkeeper.

“It leaves large numbers of companies untouched … It is quite astonishing that the government is so afraid of this scheme that they have twisted and turned and turned themselves upside down. I will be intrigued to find out what it is that they have offered to Senator Hansen in exchange for the ludicrous amendment put before us tonight but that will have to wait.”

Business chiefs head in sand

Meanwhile, the nation’s business lobbyist-in-chief Jennifer Westacott was out on a mission yesterday, doing interviews on radio and the usual Sky routine, exhorting the states to open their borders and assiduously avoiding any mention of JobKeeper.

How many members of her Business Council of Australia had claimed it? 

“It is not the Australian way,” she told radio host Neil Breen, of the failure of the states to open their borders. “And I think we’ve just got to remember, we’re one country Neil. We’re not the Balkans. I mean we’re one country.”

So utterly captured is the corporate media that not one of the media organisations which Westacott so often frequents has yet bothered to push her and her colleagues on JobKeeper. Roughly half her members foreign controlled, most are very large and unlisted.

Surely the media in the Balkans are not such patsies as to run public health advice by a business lobbyist while failing to ask even the most elementary questions about the elephant in the room, the biggest business swindle in history.

The debate of Pauline Hanson’s amendment is on again in the Senate this morning.

This article was first published by MW Media, Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.