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11 Aussie billionaires profited off JobKeeper: Report

Anastasia Santoreneos
·3-min read
Hands of businessmen passing money, Australia dollar bills
11 Aussie billionaires profited off JobKeeper: Report. Source: Getty

The overall wealth of Australia’s richest rose by 59 per cent in the last 12 months, with the JobKeeper scheme playing a major role in that, new research has revealed.

According to research commissioned by Labor MP Andrew Leigh, at least 11 billionaires received dividends worth tens of millions of dollars from companies that received JobKeeper payments.

“The extraordinary increase in the wealth of Australia’s billionaires comes at a time when most Australian workers are struggling to get any pay rise at all, and two million are unemployed or underemployed,” Leigh told The Guardian.

“JobKeeper was meant to protect the jobs of battlers, not boost the wealth of billionaires.”

In a statement to the House of Representatives earlier this week, Leigh called on the Morrison Government to scrutinise companies that were paying executive bonuses and receiving the scheme.

“The firms that have done this include Accent Group, IDP Education, Star Entertainment Group, Lendlease and Premier Investments,” he said.

Premier Investments, which owns Smiggle, Just Jeans and Peter Alexander, received $70 million in wage subsidies, including JobKeeper.

But it paid dividends to shareholders totalling $57 million. Billionaire and chairman of Premier Investments, Solomon Lew’s share of those dividends was $24.25 million, according to The Guardian.

Harvey Norman’s Gerry Harvey was also reportedly one of the retail moguls that received dividends from a company receiving the JobKeeper payment.

Toyota Australia, Super Retail Group and Domino’s have returned the subsidy after a positive earnings season, but many other brands have failed to follow suit.

Earlier this month it was revealed the auditor general would investigate the JobKeeper scheme, after concerns surfaced that the subsidy was being used to pay executive bonuses.

The Australian National Audit Office said it would look at whether the ATO put in place “effective measures to protect the integrity of JobKeeper payments”.

Leigh said the Australian Taxation Office had four Business Activity Statements and one income tax return for each business that received JobKeeper, and called on the ATO to make these details public for those businesses with a turnover of $1 billion that forecast a 50 per cent turnover drop from March to June 2020.

“The Australian public have a right to know how much JobKeeper went to those that did not experience that forecast drop in turnover,” he said.

“For businesses with a turnover below $1 billion that forecast a 30 per cent drop, how much JobKeeper went to those that did not in fact experience such a drop? How much JobKeeper has gone to firms that have paid executive bonuses? How much JobKeeper has gone to firms that paid out stonking dividends to billionaire shareholders?”

In an interview on 2SM, Leigh said he would continue to put pressure on businesses to repay money they received from the scheme.

“We just need to keep on talking about the issue,” he said. “We need to keep on ensuring that these firms know that they have an obligation not just to their shareholders, but to the broader community too.”

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