The former Coalition government should have better designed JobKeeper to ensure taxpayers were better protected, the Prime Minister has said.
As flights were grounded and staff were stepped down during Covid-19, Qantas was given almost $900 million in JobKeeper payments; and an additional $1.6bn in other government assistance payments.
Last month Qantas indicated it did not intend to repay the $2.7 billion in taxpayer-funded payments it received during the pandemic, and the government has said the national carrier is under no obligation to do so.
But after the national carrier recorded a bumper $2.5 billion profit – and amid revelations executives received bonuses in shares worth up to $10 million – questions are turning to whether Qantas needs to hand back the money.
Anthony Albanese said the scheme had helped millions of people stay afloat during the pandemic, but the program should have been better designed in the first place.
“The (former) government when it designed the JobKeeper program should have made sure that there was some provision to ensure that taxpayers’ interests were protected,” he said on Saturday.
“It is clear, as we said at the time, that there should have been some provision made by the former government.
“I would like to see every company, when they can, (pay back JobKeeper). JobKeeper was a good thing – we supported it – but we said at the time that the problem of billions of dollars going to companies that were actually increasing their profits at the time that hasn’t been repaid.”
And, while he would not be drawn on whether Qantas boss Alan Joyce should have to give back his plum bonuses, Mr Albanese said people would “make their own judgments” as to what should happen.
In a case of unfortunate timing, Mr Joyce and Qantas executives were forced to report to the ASX on Friday details of their share parcels; revealing the outgoing chief executive received 1.74m shares valued at just over $10 million as part of his bonuses from 2020, 2021, and 2022; as well as separate internal incentive scheme.
When Mr Joyce steps down in November, it’s estimated he will receive a $24 million golden handshake.
It caps off a gruelling week for the national carrier, where the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleged Qantas falsely advertised sales on 8000 flights weeks after they had been cancelled.
The consumer watchdog is seeking to penalise Qantas more than $250m.
Earlier in the week, Mr Joyce was the subject of intense scrutiny at a Senate inquiry, as Qantas’ relationship with the government was probed after it was revealed Transport Minister Catherine King rejected Qatar Airways’ request to double its flights to Australia.
The additional flights were supported by industry, but opposed by Qantas.