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The corporate watchdog is making inquiries into the failure by Premier Investments, the retailer controlled by billionaire Solomon Lew, to tell the market how much jobkeeper it has received.
After intense political pressure Premier earlier this month said it would return what it called the “net benefit” it received from the wage subsidy, of $15.6m. However, it did not disclose the total amount it received – estimates of which vary from between $75m to $100m.
In a letter to the federal opposition frontbencher Andrew Leigh sent last Wednesday, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s head of misconduct and breach reporting, Brendan Facey, said the regulator would make “initial enquiries” into Premier’s jobkeeper disclosure.
The letter was in response to a request Leigh made of Asic’s chair, James Shipton, pointing out that in June last year the regulator told companies to “prominently disclose significant amounts, the commencement date and expected duration of support or assistance” received under government programs including jobkeeper.
“Will you be asking Premier Investments to disclose the total jobkeeper support that it has received from taxpayers, in line with your own announcement?” Leigh asked in his request, sent on 3 May.
In response, Facey said that Asic had “not yet decided what action if any we will take in relation to the disclosures by Premier Investments”.
“We have registered your correspondence as a report of misconduct,” he said.
“My team, Misconduct & Breach Reporting, will carefully consider and assess the concerns you have raised. We will update you directly with the outcome of our preliminary assessment when our initial enquiries have concluded.”
Asked if Premier was aware of any interest by Asic in its jobkeeper disclosures and whether there had been any contact between the company and the regulator on the topic, a spokesman said: “There is no basis of fact supporting your line of questions.”
An Asic spokesman declined to comment.
Leigh said Australians should know how their money was spent on jobkeeper.
Jobkeeper was billed as keeping people in work at companies hit by the pandemic, but Premier and other companies received the money despite recording bumper profits.
Concerns have also been raised about the big dividends reaped by shareholders in companies that have benefited from the wages subsidy – Lew is personally entitled to more than $45m in dividends over the pandemic period. Premier denies there is any link between its dividend payments and the amount of jobkeeper it received.
Leigh said the Morrison government handed out jobkeeper of between $15bn and $20bn to companies whose earnings rose during the pandemic.
“Premier Investments got jobkeeper despite rising earnings, then used it to fund a multimillion-dollar bonus to their CEO, and a massive dividend to their shareholders,” he said.
“It only adds insult to injury that we don’t know exactly how much jobkeeper cash taxpayers gave to Premier Investments.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Corporate watchdog considers complaint about Premier Investments not revealing jobkeeper payments | Business