JobKeeper Inquiry Findings Released

The Department of the Treasury has released its findings on the JobKeeper inquiry. The report is dated late September, but was released via the Treasury Department’s website earlier today.

The report, commissioned by the incoming Albanese government, gives a relatively positive appraisal of the program. “JobKeeper was effective in achieving its stated objectives,” the report authors wrote. “It preserved employment, supported incomes and prevented large scale business failures during the pandemic.”

The Treasury estimates that the program saved between 300,000 and 800,000 jobs. This is 2.5% to 6% of the total pre-pandemic workforce. It additionally provided major fiscal stimulus for businesses with workers who would not have lost jobs.

They also point out that the policy responded to “extraordinary and unquantifiable uncertainty” of the time.

One gets the impression that the Canberra public sector officials involved in the review are either proud of or impressed with JobKeeper. The report notes the policy was only developed thanks to personal networks between high-level public servants and depended on extraordinary time commitments from everyone involved.

The SA Liberal Senator is pleased with the Treasury Report on the former government’s policy.

The undue benefit of certain companies from JobKeeper remains the major critique. One analysis estimated 20% of JobKeeper payments went to ASX 300 businesses whose revenues increased during the pandemic. Given current foreign ownership levels on the ASX, that means 30% of dividends or around $110m in JobKeeper payments went to shareholders overseas.

The Treasury report is silent on these issues. It did, however, find that JobKeeper’s implementation was relatively slow. COVID was known to public officials in 2019, and lockdowns commenced in China in January 2020 and in Italy in early March. Earlier assurances about income support would have eased economic uncertainty and saved jobs.

It was also very critical of the exclusion of working migrants from the policy. This was tremendously harmful for migrants working in Australia and was out-of-step with policy in comparable countries. It also led directly to post-pandemic labour shortages in agriculture, transport and logistics, because of the failure to retain these workers. By mid-2021, 22% of temporary work visa-holders had left the country.

But the overall picture is one of an imperfect program devised rapidly by the public sector with great social benefit.

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