The massively underspent JobKeeper scheme won’t be expanded to workers who missed out, but it could be extended beyond six months for the battered tourism sector.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the wage subsidy was working as expected, despite Treasury revealing a whopping $60 billion forecasting error.
Arts and entertainment workers, university staff and thousands of casual employees have been excluded from the scheme.
Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon described the blunder as the biggest budget error since federation.
“Given they thought that $130 billion was a reasonable investment, then surely there’s an opportunity here to adjust the scheme to extend it for some who have missed out,” he told the Seven Network on Monday.
But Senator Cormann ruled out expanding eligibility for the $1500 fortnightly payments.
“It is still an extremely expensive program – $70 billion is a lot of money,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
JobKeeper will be reviewed in June. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has flagged the possibility of more support for those in the tourism industry, which has been devastated by coronavirus lockdowns.
“The tourism sector could be one sector in need of further support,” Mr Frydenberg said on Monday.
“That’s what we’ll look at in the context of the economic situation at the time.”
Treasury released data on Friday revealing the JobKeeper wage subsidy program was expected to cost $70 billion, not the $130 billion planned for, with 3.5 million employees now signed up instead of an estimated 6.5 million.
The government has blamed the error on mistakes by businesses owners in applying for the wages subsidy.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce is dead against the idea of expanding the program.
“It’s like finding out you’ve got an extra $20,000 on your credit card,” Mr Joyce said.
“You don’t just say ‘oh beauty, I’ll go out and buy electrical goods and clothes’. This has got to be paid back.”
But Labor MPs and unions are among those calling for some of the extra money to be spent on casual workers, the university sector and the arts.
Mr Frydenberg also rejected the opposition’s calls for him to appear before a Senate committee to be grilled about the accounting bungle.
“This is just a political stunt from the Labor Party,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have both taken responsibility for the massive error.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the mistake had been catastrophic for hundreds of thousands of Australian workers.