As of Thursday, 4 June, JobKeeper payments worth $12.96 billion have been delivered to 872,482 businesses, covering about 3.3 million employees, with that number expected to grow further over the coming weeks and months.
At the same time, the ATO’s latest figures indicate it has applied $13.38 billion in cash-flow boost credits to 708,000 businesses, while applications for early release of super now count over 2 million totalling $16 billion.
“We know how hard 2020 has been for so many Australians, and how vitally important these measures are to those Australians who need them,” Chris Jordan, the Commissioner of Taxation, said before the Senate committee tasked with overseeing the government’s response to COVID-19.
“It is a great privilege, and a great responsibility, to be in a position to provide support, and we have done everything in our power to deliver that support both swiftly and securely.”
Public register ruled out
Tax experts have publicly floated the idea that Australia should follow New Zealand’s lead and introduce a public register of businesses part of the JobKeeper wage scheme to curb wrongdoing.
Questioned about the technicalities of such a move, Mr Jordan said that there are some “potential restrictions” barring the ATO from publishing names.
Referring the question to Tax Office acting second commissioner Kirsten Fish, Mr Jordan said: “It’s not something I had given any thought.”
Ms Fish explained that the information the ATO collects under the JobKeeper program is protected by taxation law.
“Information that can identify an entity that has enrolled in and is participating in the JobKeeper program can’t be disclosed except under limited circumstances, and those circumstances are detailed in the legislation itself,” Ms Fish said.
“There are very few circumstances in which we can disclose the identity of eligible employers, so at the moment, under the current law, it wouldn’t be possible for us to produce such a public register.”
Also addressing the question, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that disclosing the names of businesses could be a disincentive for them to take part in the scheme.
“The public disclosure of businesses that are in receipt of JobKeeper could act as a disincentive also to participate in the program, which could reduce support to workers,” Mr Cormann said.
He opined that it is not necessary to publish the names of businesses to ensure that workers get paid their $1,500 JobKeeper payments.
“An employer must advise all its eligible employees that it is participating in the scheme. This is a requirement under the rules, and there are a range of penalties that could apply if a business fails to properly give its eligible employees the opportunity to be nominated for JobKeeper,” Mr Cormann said.
“We believe that we got the balance right in terms of safeguards but also making sure that the scheme was able to be implemented swiftly and efficiently in the circumstances, and that we did not provide any disincentives for businesses to take advantage of this when this is ultimately a benefit for the employees.”