Businesses that did not suffer any downturn in revenue as a result of the Covid crisis received a $12.5bn windfall from the government’s jobkeeper scheme, new figures show.
The payments, which the opposition has called “the biggest waste of public money in living memory”, represent almost 14% of the $90bn program, which was designed to support workers at risk of losing their jobs at Covid-hit companies.
But some $4.6bn flowed to businesses whose turnover actually increased, the analysis, conducted by the Parliamentary Budget Office, shows.
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Under the jobkeeper rules, businesses had to demonstrate either an actual or projected drop in revenue to qualify for payments.
However, many companies that did not experience the forecast losses, continued to receive jobkeeper.
Elite private schools, including Hale boys’ school in Perth, and retailers, including Harvey Norman, are among entities that received jobkeeper despite suffering no downturn in revenue as a result of last year’s coronavirus recession.
As Guardian Australia has previously reported, the flow of money prompted fears jobkeeper subsidies were being used to pay big dividends to company shareholders, a ploy labelled “dividendkeeperr”.
The release of the PBO figures, which were first reported by the ABC, come amid calls for a renewal of the jobkeeper scheme to combat the effects of restrictions in NSW, Victoria and South Australia that have plunged 14.5m Australians into lockdown and stalled the construction industry in Sydney.
Consumer spending fell in June and is likely to fall further this month, leading economists to forecast that Australia’s economy will shrink over the second quarter of the year.
Parliament is currently conducting hearings into a Greens bill that would force companies to pay back jobkeeper that they received but did not need.
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Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh said big businesses that received jobkeeper but increased their turnover during the pandemic should pay it back.
“It’s time the government stood up and said clearly, once and for all, that that’s what they expect to happen because it’s what the community expects to happen,” he said.
“The money Josh Frydenberg wasted could pay for more than three months of properly run jobkeeper for NSW.
“What we need is something like jobkeeper without the Liberal rorts.”
Jobkeeper was introduced in March last year as unemployment queues stretched around the block and the economy was plunged into recession as a result of the Covid crisis.
It finished at the end of March this year.
The PBO figures also showed that 23 extremely large companies with turnover of more than $1bn, that needed to show a drop in revenue of more than 50% to qualify, received just $79m in jobkeeper.
However, 391 large businesses with revenue of between $100m and $1bn, who needed to show a drop of 30%, received $647m.
More than 6,500 businesses with turnover between $10m and $100m received almost $2bn.
The bulk of the payments, more than $9.3bn, went to almost 358,000 businesses with turnover of less than $10m.