Labor MP Andrew Leigh (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Given that the federal government can seemingly print money with gay abandon at the moment, it probably doesn’t really matter that the $100 billion JobKeeper program has been massively rorted.

But surely the fiscal responsibility and law and order instincts of a Coalition government would mean widespread prosecution of rorters and enthusiastic campaigning to minimise participation in the scheme.

Alas, with a program that involves taxpayers directly funding employers of all sizes, the party of the bosses has gone weak at the knees, particularly when compared with how they normally treat employees or direct welfare recipients.

Almost a year after the scheme commenced, the Australian Tax Office finally landed its first JobKeeper criminal prosecution yesterday, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Attorney-General Christian Porter don’t seem to have any appetite to name and shame the rorters, let alone vigorously encourage repayments.

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The union movement, led by ACTU secretary Sally McManus, also haven’t said anything, presumably because the extraordinarily broad scheme did save a lot of jobs and put additional cash into the hands of millions of Australians.

The JobKeeper rort is so vast that it’s hard to find many of the normal players in the public debate to comment without having a conflict of interest.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors would normally be all over a rorted government scheme, but even it pocketed about $5 million from JobKeeper in 2020 — hence the radio silence.

Similarly, the Australian Shareholders’ Association hasn’t been campaigning for companies to hand back their JobKeeper payments because it has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from it. And fair enough too. Its annual conference each May is its major revenue and profit event and last year’s conference in Sydney was cancelled due to COVID.

Then you have the political parties. One federal Labor frontbencher tells Crikey: “I’ve heard on the grapevine that all the political parties got JobKeeper, but must confess that I’ve never delved into it.”

If this is indeed the first government welfare scheme to be rorted by political parties themselves, then surely leaders of the public debate like Frydenberg should be big enough to at least acknowledge that the political party they represent is in on the giggle.

Frydenberg took a Dorothy Dixer on JobKeeper during question time yesterday but, as usual, failed to focus on the growing list of public companies voluntarily handing back their JobKeeper windfalls and instead talked about saving the economy and the number of companies and individuals who are progressively coming off the program.

The December half reporting season for public companies finishes tomorrow when there will be a deluge of more than 300 “last day laggards” who wait until the last possible day to reveal what is normally a disappointing result.

This year there will be less last day losses than usual because JobKeeper has materially rescued the financial performance of so many public companies.

The numbers are getting so big that even Alan Kohler highlighted the extraordinary situation at car retailer Eagers Automotive on the ABC 7pm news last night. (Guardian Australia also picked up on the rorting.) Eagers declared a $64 million final dividend after posting a $156 million net profit yesterday, something that just wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t pocketed an astonishing $130 million in JobKeeper payments during calendar 2020, although nothing was received after September 30.

Qantas is the largest known recipient of JobKeeper having received $267 million in the June half year and a further $459 million in the December half results released earlier today. Most public companies are now off JobKeeper but Qantas will go right through until the program finishes at the end of March — eventually notching up close to $1 billion in receipts.

Surely we deserve to be told who got the other $99 billion through a New Zealand-style public register.

If you want to keep up with the JobKeeper debate, federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh’s Twitter feed is as good a place as any to follow the disclosure, particularly during the latter stages of the public company reporting season as parliament sits.

Leigh gave billionaire Gerry Harvey a much-deserved spray this week ahead of what will be a record half-year Harvey Norman profit tomorrow — no doubt once again assisted by JobKeeper like so many of the other listed retailers.

There was also an excellent discussion on Radio National’s The Money program last week, but what we really need is a solid campaign from News Corp exposing all the JobKeeper rorting and demanding full disclosure.

Remember the holy war The Australian ran against Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s school halls program? JobKeeper is six times bigger than the $16 billion Building the Education Revolution program but it is getting about one sixth of the attention from News Corp.

Private Media, the parent company of Crikey, received JobKeeper last year. None of the funds were paid to shareholders as dividends. It was used entirely to pay staff salaries.