The Murdochs and Packers have got their fingers in the taxpayer honeypot again, this time winning nearly $6 million without a tender from the Department of Health. Michael West reports on Mable and the latest in corporate welfare.
A lot has been “unprecedented” lately; an “unprecedented” crisis has delivered an unprecedented opportunity for those with money and connections to get their mits into government subsidies.
The mining magnates kicked off the week furiously lobbying for tax cuts as usual, although plenty of them don’t even pay tax.
The multinational gas giants – egregious tax avoiders all – have already won the Government over to their costly “gas-led recovery” scheme.
Already living high on the taxpayer teat, Qantas has been pinged by the Fair Work Commission for over-egging its JobKeeper claims.
All this after revelations here last week that profitable property leviathans such as Mirvac have been gaming the JobKeeper subsidy (while penniless casual workers are locked out of the scheme).
Then there is the unrelenting extravagance of overspending on consultants and military.
One particularly unedifying aspect of the explosion in Federal Government spending is the rise in untendered contracts. The numbers in Defence are enormous but it goes on elsewhere, with little scrutiny.
One irking example was the decision last month by the Department of Health to award a contract of nearly $6 million over three months to a Murdoch and Packer-backed venture called Mable.
Mabel is a sort-of “Uber for Aged Care”, a website which matches aged care and disability workers – or service providers – with the elderly and disabled.
Documents from the corporate regulator show Mable’s largest shareholders are Ellerston Capital, a hedge fund founded by Kerry and James Packer, and News Corp’s Scaleup Mediafund. Besides the big media backers, Mable is operated by venture capitalists Peter Scutt (ex-BT) and banker Tony Charara (ex JP Morgan).
Rich-Lister Tony Wales of Computershare fame is a top shareholder too via his investment vehicle Welas Pty Ltd, as are Alison Ferletto and investment banker husband Roger Feletto, managing director of Greenhill Australia.
Aged care association COTA Australia is on the register too. That could not have damaged Mable’s prospects for getting government money as COTA chief executive Ian Yates sits on a raft of official aged care committees.
Billionaire backed corporations such as News Corp and Ellerston are no strangers to taxpayer-funded ventures, or the aged care honeypot either for that matter. Indeed, one of the sector’s top corporate entities, Estia, is backed by Kerry Stokes. And it should be said that large aged care operators – both corporate and NGO alike – have been pushing hard for more subsidies during the Covid-19 crisis … and getting them.
It is hard to beat Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp though which, along with Foxtel, has paid almost no tax in Australia for years but continues to pick up taxpayer subsidies to boot. One devious instance was the recent Government hand-out for regional newspapers, the bulk of which went to News and Nine Entertainment then, hard on the heels of the hand-out, just weeks later, came the news that News Corp was trying to sell its newly subsidised regional assets anyway.
Ordinary Australians, the other 26 million of us without political connections and financial clout, are unlikely to come out of this unprecedented crisis in as good shape as the billionaires and the large corporations who fund the major political parties. While their lobby groups cry for more corporate tax cuts, those with plenty of money are already cherry-picking assets on the cheap – which suggests the 70 year trend towards inequality and the political and economic dominance of large corporations is likely to accelerate.