The Guardian • Issue #1975

Centrelink forces workers to pay back JobKeeper profits

Centrelink has demanded the return of excess JobKeeper funds from recipients while not demanding the same from businesses who turned a profit while accessing the scheme. This double standard comes as no surprise; as stated in Guardian #1973 “Businesses exploit JobKeeper subsidy,” the government will always be on the side of businesses against workers.

The JobKeeper scheme has cost over $90bil, with $4.6bil of it (that we know of thus far) going to businesses that were still making a profit. Centrelink has demanded that $32mil be returned by 11,771 workers, while not asking any of the businesses to return any money. This has led to the government being rightfully accused of hypocrisy. Workers are being punished for an error that their employers made.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert put it most succinctly,“It is farcical that the government is chasing individuals for so called debts for what will be genuine mistakes in a confusing system when they have given millions to billionaires”

Jeremy Poxon, a spokesperson for the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, also commented that,“Judgeing by the amount of panicked calls we got about it, we – and the department – know jobkeeper was a confusing mess of a system to access.”

As many of us already know, people on welfare benefits are required to report any income they make to Centrelink as part of their mutual obligations. This is then used to calculate the amount they receive. Services Australia then checks this information against a welfare recipient’s tax records. This was the exact process that led to the Robodebt scandal, despite it allegedly being discontinued after its catastrophic failure.

To add insult to injury, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has rejected a motion in the Senate to disclose the names of businesses who profited off the scheme. The Tax Commissioner justified this move by stating that it would breach their privacy and undermine tax secrecy laws.

Businesses have no obligation to publicly disclose their full financial details, and while workers also are not required to do this, they are the ones being targeted while the ATO has access to the exact same information on businesses. The potentially good news is that the Senate may still be able to force the ATO to disclose the names and figures of those businesses.

In light of all this injustice, it is easy to forget the very real and material consequences this has on workers. Jan Raabe, a pensioner who works as an emergency primary school teacher, was slapped with a $1000 bill that is now being incrementally taken out of her pension as she doesn’t have the money to pay it upfront. Expressing her frustration, she said that, “I’m just a little person, I don’t have a very large income … I don’t own my house. When I heard that certain churches and Harvey Norman and many other people pocketed millions, I feel it is disgusting they just won’t pay it back … Why are they allowed to get away with it? Why don’t they have to pay it back?”

We will end this article on Raabe’s words, for they rightly express the anger the working class should feel about this targeted attack.

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