2GB with Ray Hadley
Subjects: JobKeeper; ATO Super fraud
RAY HADLEY: I've received plenty of emails regarding JobKeeper. Now right from word go we told you it was not a perfect system. People writing to me saying 'Oh look it's not fair you know, I've got one daughter who works really hard full-time and I've got another daughter studying university, she only works 12 hours a week, but they're both getting $1,500 a fortnight.' So the answer to that was I said we'll tell the one that works a few hours to give the other one a bit more money, and that'll work out within the family. It can't always be done but then other people said look I work 30 hours and someone worked 15 and we're both getting the same money. I said it's imperfect. But it saved the economy. It's $130 billion designed to keep Australians in jobs or cash coming in when they don't have a job. In other words, you've got plenty of businesses – clubs, pubs, restaurants, a whole range of businesses closing down completely – but their staff, when the employer's applied for JobKeeper, they get the money - the employer - they pass it on less tax to the person who's basically unemployed. And if they don't get that they've got to go to of course JobSeeker where it's $1,100 a fortnight. Now, we have asked time after time whether there could be imperfections fixed. And the general answer is look we know it's imperfect; the Prime Minister told me that; Josh Frydenberg told me that; we're doing the best we possibly can. But I just can't figure this one out. I keep getting emails - and mainly from hairdressers strangely enough - who have applied for it – they've got seven barbers – this is men's hairdressers - working for them and all of a sudden as soon as that $1,500 started to arrive into their bank accounts via their boss, they've got exotic diseases - they can't come to work. And the bosses are saying to me - not just in that business - other businesses as well; 'what do I do?' I had another business the other day saying we're paying a young bloke that worked 12 hours a week for us, $1,500 dollars a fortnight - we haven't seen him. And when we ring him 'oh I don't feel well, I'm not coming today.' Are we obliged to give him the $1,500? The answer is, I think, yes. Is it right? No. And of course the Minister for Industrial Relations and the Attorney-General is Christian Porter, he's on the line. Minister, good morning to you.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Morning, Ray. How are you?
RAY HADLEY: Good, thanks very much. Look, I'm not here to criticise JobKeeper, I think it saved our economy. But I'm just getting frustrated with employers asking me what they do when employees simply refuse to come to work. What do they do?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, the answer to that question is that nothing about JobKeeper disturbs an employers or an employee's requirements in their existing instruments of employment.
So, the situation that you've raised, you know, what about an employee who refuses to work at all but still wants the $1,500? Now every employment contract and circumstance will be different but generally speaking there are consequences in any employment relationship that flow from someone simply refusing to attend work. And where an employee has been rostered on, or is directed to work, and they just don't abide by that roster or turn up to work, then there'll be consequences. And very often, those consequences are serious and in many instances that can result in dismissal. But nothing about JobKeeper changes those fundamental relationships between employee and employer.
So, I guess the first rule is that employees still have to turn up to work to get the $1,500 and if they don't turn up to work then they can suffer the consequences that they would have suffered in January had they not turned up to work.
And the second golden rule about the system is that employers can direct, in reasonable circumstances, someone to work less hours so that they meet that $1,500, but employers can't force employees to work more hours. Now, they can request that and they can encourage that, but they can't compel that.
So, look, there are - there have been some instances that we've become aware anecdotally about the type of situation that you've just described. But it is an important message to both employers and employees that this doesn't change the fundamental relationship between the two.
RAY HADLEY: So, they - and I know there are checks and balances, you can't just sack anyone anymore, you can't say, well you didn't come in yesterday, you're sacked; you've got to give them warning letters, you've got to go through that process. But you see, there's one instance where a worker is supposed to work four days a week, they're turning up for one shift and just saying to the employer, well, I'm coming in once a week. You know, and they're still getting the $1,500 fortnight less tax.
I mean, it becomes mindboggling for the employer to deal if there's more than one person doing it – rort - I think they're rorting the system - for them to then issue letters and then, you know I'm going to terminate you unless you start working the four days and you're only working one. And then they turn up with a doctor's certificate saying they had a cold or a bad back or whatever they had, they can't work. It just is a minefield for those - and I take the point there's some employers that tried to rort it as well and the ATO's keeping a close eye on them. But it just seems to me that if people just refuse point blank to work, they should be given a letter of notice of intention to sack them. And then, what happens then? Do they go to Fair Work or they go somewhere else if they're sacked? And what happens to the money? They ring the ATO, the employer, and say this person's no longer employed, don't send me the money anymore, is that how that works?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, so if it's an industrial relations issue or dispute, if someone just doesn't turn up to work and an employer makes the decision to respond to that by dismissal or by some other penalty and the employee wants to contest that, they go to the Fair Work Commission. I think one thing to note is we have heard these stories anecdotally, but I think the good news is that the number of JobKeeper dispute applications that the Fair Work Commission has received to date's been 212 as of last Friday, and a lot of those have been jurisdictional matters.
So, overwhelmingly, I think, Ray, both employees and employers recognise the severity and extremity of the situation. Jobs are very valuable things at the moment. Businesses are very valuable things at the moment. Generally speaking, overwhelmingly, people are acting with common sense and engaging in the system as it's meant to be engaged in. So, that I think is good news. But yeah, there'll always be people who will try it on. But I think the message for someone who is just not turning up to work as a try-on to still get $1,500 for working much less than they usually work or not working at all, you're putting your job at risk. And a job is a very valuable commodity at the moment. For employers who are going too hard and trying to force people to work more hours, you can't do that. So I think, by and large, it's working well and I think it just needs to be repeated that the usual protections that apply to employees still apply, but the usual responsibilities for employees also still apply, they've got to turn up to work.
RAY HADLEY: Now, just on another matter not related to your portfolio, because one of the things I've often said to the Prime Minister when he wasn't the Prime Minister, when he was trying to implement different things and work for the dole and a whole range of other things, or giving people vouchers so they could get food and necessities and how they rorted that system. There's always someone to rort. How are we looking at the moment with these people who try to rort the claiming of super over the next two years - the $10,000 a year? I know that there are investigations continuing but the ATO are chasing it down, I know that, but people are just concerned that there is a small group of people - I think 120 in total - who've had their super accessed by someone other than themselves. How are we going with that?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Look, I don't have the most up to date brief as of this morning but I think that my summary of that would be that it appears to be that the ATO has detected that fraud at an early stage, which is very good news. So, they're obviously preventing further frauds of that type, investigating how it happened. And it appears a form of identity theft. It's obviously very, very serious. Getting on top of it early is very important because these things can snowball very quickly. But again, there will always be people who try and take advantage of these systems.It's up to the Government obviously and the departments obviously and the ATO, in this instance, to try and detect those frauds as early as possible and shut them down. And unfortunately, if you shut down one type of fraud another will no doubt rise in its place and you've got to be ever vigilant to stop it. But it was a very serious matter. But as you note, the numbers involved at the time at which it was detected were relatively small, which I think can give people confidence that the ATO is actually auditing these matters and keeping a very close eye on it.
RAY HADLEY: One would hope that if you get duded by your bank through this sort of fraud, well the bank, in nine out of the 10 cases, as long as you aren't involved in fraud, they'll make good, they'll restitute you the money you've missed. One would hope that these people won't be out of pocket because they've been the victim of a fraud of this nature.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah. Well, I can't give legal advice on the run but generally speaking, you do find that the relationships and contractual relationships cover the person in these instances. But again, we want to stop it. We don't want to rely on that.
RAY HADLEY: No. No. I know it's a hackneyed cliché but if these people only used their methods for good, not bad for evil, we'd be a lot better off because every time - and it's not just your government, previous governments come up with a way to try and help the economy as they did through the economic, global financial crisis, and the economies of scale there, every time they come up with some sort of solution, as you've tried to here, some low bludger gets hold of a way of beating it or trying to beat it. It just is incredible.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, Ray, before politics, I was a Crown prosecutor and I never was - I never failed to be amazed by the ingenuity and innovativeness in people who try and defraud systems that you put in place. And obviously, when you've got large systems operating like JobSeeker, like JobKeeper, like the superannuation early release, people unfortunately apply that ingenuity and innovation to try and hack and fraud systems and it's a very hard thing to keep on top of. But the ATO are pretty vigilant with these things - not an organisation I'd be crossing in a hurry.
RAY HADLEY: That's wise advice, Attorney. Wise advice indeed. Okay. Thanks for that. We'll tell the people what you've told us. And in other words, the rules in place as of this date, 11 May, the same as they were on 1 January before it all started. Thanks for that. Appreciate it.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: That's right. And Fair Work Ombudsman, 13 1394 hotline if you've got queries, questions or a situation that has arisen that you don't know how to deal with, give them a call.
RAY HADLEY: Good point. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Cheers.
RAY HADLEY: Cheers. Bye-bye. 13 1394 the number to get the Ombudsman at Fair Work. That of course is the Attorney-General Christian Porter.