ABC ILLAWARRA MORNINGS
MONDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2020
NICK RHEINBERGER, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasurer. He joins us now here at 97.3 ABC Illawarra Mornings. Mr Chalmers, good morning.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good morning, Nick.
RHEINBERGER: How much do we know about the alleged rorts of JobKeeper?
CHALMERS: We learned a bit more about it this morning. There's a story this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald by Nigel Gladstone, who talks about some of that double dipping that you were referring to, which is obviously concerning. Equally concerning is that this isn't the first issue that's arisen from JobKeeper. We should begin by saying that JobKeeper is actually a really good idea. Wage subsidies are a good idea. We proposed them, we welcomed the Government's change of heart when they implemented them, but they're being quite badly implemented. A lot of people have been excluded needlessly; then you had the $60 billion error in the numbers; then we found out that a lot of JobKeeper was paid as executive bonuses, which is not its intention; and now we learn from this story today in the paper that there's been a lot of double dipping. Some of that will be accidental, some will be a function of confusion and volatility, some will be businesses just getting it wrong but there is some rorting as well. It's really the responsibility of the Commonwealth Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to design a scheme which can balance legitimate mistakes against deliberate rorting, where the rorting can be punished.
RHEINBERGER: Do we have official figures from the ATO about how many complaints or tip offs they've received? Has that been confirmed? I've got the Nigel Gladstone story in front of me here, for instance. I'm trying to get what we know officially about this.
CHALMERS: Those are the official numbers provided to Nigel Gladstone from the ATO. There are ways to get answers to some of these questions. It looks like something like 8,000 tip offs, and at least 2,200 employees who have been found on multiple payments. That obviously doesn't capture the whole situation. We keep saying to the Government privately, publicly, and in committees, let's make JobKeeper as good as it can be; let's make sure, given every dollar of this is borrowed money, that we're not wasting it, that we're getting maximum bang for buck, and that it's going to people who genuinely need it because it does have a good function to serve in the economy. You mentioned before that it's good for keeping money circulating in the economy, but it's also good in keeping people attached to their employer which is our main game here. We've got a million unemployed, and something like 400,000 expected to join the unemployment queues between now and Christmas. We're relying heavily on JobKeeper to keep people in work. But in order to do that we need to make sure it's not wasted, we're getting bang for buck, that there are the right compliance regimes, that people aren't doing the wrong thing. My fear here is that the Treasurer says that this is all a matter for the ATO. Actually the design of the program, the rules, who's eligible, those things are actually the Treasurer's responsibility on his own. When things go well he's there for the victory lap, but when things go badly, and this story suggests that there are some problems, we need to see him take responsibility for it.
RHEINBERGER: Okay. Many of these things are Fair Work issues, if you're not getting paid penalty rates et cetera, but some of them are definitely about the design. Is it possible that a full time employee whose full time wage is not impacted by shutdowns or lockdowns, who might have had another job on the side in a cafe on Saturdays and Sundays, can claim the full whack of JobKeeper for that second job? Is that one of the loopholes that is achievable if you really try?
CHALMERS: The eligibility for the payments is actually determined by the business and whether the business has gone substantially backwards. The intention is that if you're working full time for a business that hasn't taken a big hit, and some haven't, then -
RHEINBERGER: But this is someone with a second job. You're already getting paid a full time wage and able to work from home, but with your second job, are you able to claim the full $1500 a fortnight?
CHALMERS: That's not the intention, no. Certainly not. There must be some of that going on. The intention is that people continue to get paid in the usual way, but if the business that they work for has taken a big hit then JobKeeper is available. There's some discretion that can be applied by the ATO. There's some issues around people working multiple part time jobs. But the intention is to prevent people from losing their job because the business they work for has taken a hit.
RHEINBERGER: When JobKeeper does start to ease back - I think it's 1 October, in a couple of weeks' time - is there a chance that some of these regulations could be tightened for some of these loopholes?
CHALMERS: There is the opportunity to do that. But the broader point that you make about JobKeeper being cut in a couple of weeks is arguably one of the biggest challenges we've got in the economy. When the Government decided to cut JobKeeper it was on the assumption that Victoria would be open and going fine, and that the international border would be opening soon. These things turned out not to be true. Our view is that they should reconsider cutting JobKeeper while unemployment is rising and we're in the worst recession we've been in for almost 100 years. That's the fundamental point. On the specific point about tightening up some of these issues: absolutely. What people don't really understand is that all the legislation and the Parliament has done is created the ability for the Government to make the payment. All of the rules about eligibility, and the issues around rates and compliance are actually just for the Treasurer alone to decide. He does have a big opportunity to clean up some of the rorting, and some of the issues that we've talked about today. He's should take the opportunity to leave the rate up there for longer because the economy is not ready for these cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker which the Government has in store.
RHEINBERGER: Jim Chalmers good to talk to you.
CHALMERS: Thanks very much, Nick.