Workers who scored a coronavirus pay rise under the $1500 JobKeeper scheme are the target of a secret audit to discover how many winners are getting “overpaid” under the handouts.
News.com.au can reveal a Treasury review of the scheme has sought advice on how to drill down and find out how many workers are legally getting more cash under JobKeeper than they previously earned.
The JobKeeper review is being led by Australian Treasury Regulatory Reform Taskforce head Mark Cully.
Some experts believe the Prime Minister should stop these “overpayments” to workers from July 1 under his pledge to consider adjustments to the scheme.
But others argue it’s too late to “unscramble the egg” and pay these casuals less JobKeeper, particularly in the wake of a bungled costings drama slashing the number of workers covered by the scheme and pledges not to engage in wholesale changes.
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As Scott Morrison moved to “take responsibility” for a $60 billion JobKeeper costings bungle, he hinted the scheme could be extended on Sunday, but only in a more targeted way to help tourism workers hit by the closure of international borders.
“Now, there are many challenges that the economy will face beyond September. We know that and there are particular sectors that will feel this for longer, particularly those who are particularly dependent on international borders,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“And we know that and we understand that and we’ll be considering that carefully.”
But the Prime Minister is digging in and resisting calls to expand the scheme to more casuals, university workers, and foreign visa holders.
“It’s not free money. It’s not money that’s just sitting somewhere that can be spent,” he said.
However, he is open to more ‘targeted assistance’.
“The economy is reopening,’’ he said.
“And so I welcome this and as the economy reopens, then large parts of the economy will no longer need to be dependent upon government subsidies and they’ll be able to stand on their own two feet. Now, as more and more businesses can do that, then that means we will be able to target more and more of our assistance to those areas in greatest need and that has always been the government’s plan.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has argued it’s not fair some workers are getting overpaid when other casuals miss out entirely because they haven’t worked for longer than 12 months.
Teenagers have emerged as the big winners under JobKeeper because it pays a flat rate of $1500 a fortnight regardless of what workers previously earned.
According to some estimates, under 20s secured a 16 per cent pay rise as a result of the scheme.
Until now, the Morrison Government has been left in the dark about exactly how many workers secured a pay rise under the JobKeeper scheme while thousands of others missed out and were forced to rely on the dole.
But the Australian Taxation Office is able to obtain the information by using the Single Touch Payroll (STP) to track how many workers are getting more cash under JobKeeper than they previously earned.
Employers have also complained they cannot request these workers come in and do more shifts despite the fact they are earning more under JobKeeper.
Economist Steve Hamilton, a former Treasury official and professor at George Washington University, also urged the Morrison Government to consider switching off the payments after companies recovered.
“There’s no automatic trigger to withdraw support when a business no longer needs it,’’ he said.
“With the economy in the near term nowhere near as bad as expected, many businesses will be profiting from JobKeeper. To qualify, businesses only had to tell the ATO they expected revenue to fall by 30 per cent over a one-month period to qualify for the entire six months. This is very easy to game, and hard for the ATO to enforce.
“By deleting just two words in the regulations, eligibility could instead be tested each month. Gaming the system would be much harder month after month.”
Samantha Maiden is news.com.au’s national political editor | @samanthamaiden