Senate refers ATO boss for investigation after he refused to reveal major JobKeeper recipients

Asia's Tech News Daily

The head of the Australian Taxation Office will be investigated over whether he obstructed the work of the Senate by refusing to release the names of major businesses that received JobKeeper payments.

Senators have been demanding the ATO reveal the names of businesses with turnover of more than $10 million that received JobKeeper, as well as the number of people they employed, as controversy swirls over the wage subsidy scheme.

Independent senator Rex Patrick has been leading the charge in the upper house, insisting that taxpayers deserve to know where their money was spent.

“This is the biggest public policy failure in the history of the commonwealth,” he told NCA NewsWire on Tuesday.

Senate refers ATO boss for investigation after he refused to reveal major JobKeeper recipients

Camera IconIndependent senator Rex Patrick has been leading calls for greater transparency in how the JobKeeper scheme was managed. Tricia Watkinson Credit: News Corp Australia

The $89 billion JobKeeper program was designed to support businesses significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, by helping them cover the cost of wages until March this year if they kept employees on the books.

But the Morrison government has been criticised for providing more than $13 billion to businesses that increased profits and revenue, with hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to companies whose turnover tripled.

Labor, Greens, and One Nation senators, as well as Jacqui Lambie, on Tuesday afternoon voted in support of Senator Patrick’s motion to refer ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan to the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges.

The Senate had ordered Mr Jordan on August 4 to provide the list of all employers with an annual turnover of greater than $10 million that were paid a JobKeeper payment and the number of employees paid, the total amount paid and any amount returned.

Mr Jordan was originally ordered to produce the documents by August 10 but he has consistently declined to do so, citing concerns over privacy and tax secrecy obligations.

Senator Patrick said that Mr Jordan had failed to comply with a lawful order of the Senate.

“A clear remedy for that would be to provide the information, but that is a matter for the (privileges) committee,” he said.

“I don’t think officials in the United States would ever seek to defy an order of the US senate. I’m very glad that the Australian Senate has stood up today. It appears to be getting back some of its mojo.”

Senate refers ATO boss for investigation after he refused to reveal major JobKeeper recipients

Camera IconTreasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended the JobKeeper scheme. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

Senator Patrick, Labor and the Greens have been calling for public register listing how much businesses with more than $10 million in turnover received, which the Morrison government has rebuffed.

Centrelink and commonwealth debt collectors have meanwhile been pursuing more than 10,000 people to retrieve $32 million in welfare payments the federal government claims they were overpaid due to JobKeeper.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has staunchly defended the JobKeeper scheme, which he has called one of the most successful economic support programs in Australian history.

Mr Frydenberg credits JobKeeper with saving more than 700,000 jobs and supporting small businesses, which he says were 97 per cent of the recipients.

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