Australia

'Surviving on thin air': JobKeeper review could strip billions of dollars from workers

Billions of dollars in wage support could be stripped out of the Victorian and NSW economies in September, while former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull warns the JobKeeper lifeline is being used to prop up businesses that have no future.

Labor is urging the government to reveal as soon as possible its plans for the $70 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program, which is due to end in late September. A review of the program will be released on July 23 as part of the government's budget update.

Malcolm Turnbull warns the lifeline is being used to prop up businesses that have no future.

Malcolm Turnbull warns the lifeline is being used to prop up businesses that have no future.Credit:Nic Walker

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said about 21,100 businesses in Sydney and 17,100 in Melbourne are estimated to be receiving JobKeeper on behalf of 1.2 million and 930,000 workers in each city respectively. Nationally about $5.1 billion a fortnight is being pumped into businesses to keep workers employed during the coronavirus pandemic.

"He must not make things even worse for Australian families and businesses by withdrawing support too soon," Mr Albanese said.

The JobKeeper review will also canvass some of the problems businesses and individuals have struck in accessing the scheme.

Perth couple Jon Hunter and Alex Smith are living off a credit card as they have not had any income for more than three months because rules around JobKeeper precluded them from accessing it.

Perth couple Alex Smith and Jon Hunter are living off a credit card after being unable to claim JobKeeper.

Perth couple Alex Smith and Jon Hunter are living off a credit card after being unable to claim JobKeeper.

The pair, both in their 60s, ran Ms Smith's family day care and Mr Hunter's job as a chauffeur under a single ABN.

Despite both their incomes crashing, under JobKeeper only one could have qualified for the wage subsidy, so the tax office advised them to set up individual ABNs. After doing that they discovered they had missed a March cut-off date for either to qualify. They are now hoping to get JobSeeker.

Ms Smith said while ATO staff had done all they could to assist, she and Mr Hunter had fallen into a JobKeeper "anomaly" that forced them into using up their savings.

"We're surviving on thin air," she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

"We've maxed out one credit card and we're now relying on the other. Hopefully this can all get solved."

Malcolm Turnbull said the JobSeeker review would need to look at what parts had worked and failed when put into practice and come up with a model "revised in the light of the real life experience".

He also proposed redirecting financial support away from failing businesses left unsustainable due to the pandemic and towards new jobs.

"You clearly don't want to be using government money to keep people in jobs that have gone, or are no longer able to be sustained otherwise. What you need then is the economic growth in other parts of the economy so that other opportunities will arise," he said during a University of Technology Sydney conference on the role of startups in reviving the economy.

"There's always a tendency to want to throw money at a business that is failing, to keep people in employment. That's a natural human reaction.

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"But that's why a strong innovative economy is so important because as one business falls over or fails for whatever reason – it may just be poor management, it may be the pandemic, it may be competition – there is growth elsewhere in the economy to create other opportunities."

The government has flagged the possibility of extending the wage subsidy scheme for some locations and industries after September, amid warnings from the tourism and hospitality sector they are yet to start recovering.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was providing record levels of support through JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement that flows to people on welfare payments such as JobSeeker.

"This country has never seen a level of income support provided by a federal government like they're seeing now. And we will continue to provide that," he said on Thursday.

The challenge facing the government was highlighted by lending data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that showed the biggest monthly fall in home loans on record.

Loans dropped by 11.6 per cent in May or almost $2.2 billion, with investor loans falling by 15.6 per cent to their lowest number since 2002.

However, loan refinancing soared by 29.2 per cent, the biggest lift on record, as Australians sought to lock in ultra-low interest rates with different borrowers.

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