Karen Andrews says companies who made profits after JobKeeper should do some ‘soul-searching’

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Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews wants profitable companies that pocketed JobKeeper payments to "do a bit of soul-searching" about repaying the money.

More than $4.5 billion in JobKeeper payments went to businesses that increased their turnover at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wage subsidy payments were intended to help businesses with turnover declining by at least 30 per cent compared to the same period pre-pandemic.

But companies that doubled and even tripled their profits pocketed hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars because there was no legal requirement to repay the money if their revenue projections were wrong.

The federal government has defended profitable businesses keeping the money. But Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said they should consider repaying it.

"I think there's actually a responsibility on many of those businesses now. If they are doing well, they need to do a bit of soul-searching," she told ABC Radio Gold Coast.

Some have willingly repaid the money, while others such as Harvey Norman, have only done so after significant public pressure.

While defending JobKeeper as a "strong strategy" that was rolled out "with the best of intentions", Ms Andrews said there was scope for companies to repay the money.

"I think it is incumbent on many of those businesses to look at the money they have received from the government and to draw their own conclusions," she said.

Conditions on JobKeeper would have cost jobs: Assistant Treasurer

While Ms Andrews is encouraging businesses to consider repaying JobKeeper payments, the Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar is defending their right not to.

He said businesses would have sacked workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic if they were faced with the prospect of having to repay JobKeeper payments.

"Australian companies were making decisions about [their] headcount based on anticipated turnover," he said.

"It was very clear that businesses were looking at what they were anticipating in their businesses [and] that was informing their decisions on whether to stand Australians down, or whether to sack people." 

Labor, the Greens and independent senator Rex Patrick have been pushing for a public register of JobKeeper recipients in order to increase public pressure on profitable companies to return the money. 

Allowing profitable businesses to keep the money "at the same time as social security recipients are hounded for overpayments" was particularly egregious, according to Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers.

"If [Treasurer] Josh Frydenberg hadn't sprayed around billions of dollars to businesses who didn't need JobKeeper payments, there would be more room now to support workers and small businesses in locked-down communities," he said.

Pressed on the issue in Parliament last week, Mr Frydenberg pointed out he had previously expressed support for companies to pay back JobKeeper payments if they wanted to.

He also defended the wage subsidy scheme's success in keeping workers linked to their employers.

"JobKeeper is perhaps the most remarkably successful economic support program this country has ever seen," Mr Frydenberg said.

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By political reporter Melissa Clarke (Original ABC Article)