The government has been accused of a double standard with newly released figures revealing more than 11,000 Aussies received Centrelink debt letters informing them they had been overpaid after receiving JobKeeper.
It comes less than 24 hours after the federal government shut down a move for greater public transparency requirements for large Australian businesses that claimed the Covid subsidy and potentially went on to turn a profit.
Services Australia confirmed to Senate Estimates that by April 30 2021, 11,771 people had been sent letters “after the completion of a review of their income support payments and the JobKeeper income that was paid to them by their employer”.
“As at 30 April 2021, approximately $32.8 million in debt has been raised through completed reviews,” the agency said.
The majority of people who received this debts were on JobSeeker.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said there was a “clear double-standard” between individuals receiving income assistance and businesses who claimed the Jobkeeper wage subsidy, then turned a profit.
“It is outrageous that people on income support have debt notices – where are the debt notices for the billionaires?” she said in a public statement.
“I am certain the vast majority of these so-called debts will be genuine mistakes in a confusing system.”
On Monday, the federal government shut down a proposal from independent Senator Rex Patrick to amend the government’s Covid-19 financial support bill to include transparency requirements for big business.
Under Senator Patrick’s proposal, the tax commissioner would have been required to publicly disclose the names and revenue of businesses that received government financial support – including JobKeeper.
The government has declined to make businesses pay back JobKeeper payments if they did not experience the losses that they had forecasted.
Senator Patrick told NCA NewsWire it was “rank hypocrisy” from the government to send out the debt letters to individuals but not to businesses.
“The government has to stop turning a blind eye to the billions of dollars that were funnelled from taxpayer wallets to company shareholders and executives by way of improved dividends and bonuses,” he said.
Labor initially backed the business transparency amendment put forward by Senator Patrick, but later pulled its support.