Australia Senate Wants Answers Over $39 Billion Welfare ‘Bungle’

An Australian Senate committee will call on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to explain how the government overestimated the size of a jobs-rescue package by A$60 billion ($39 billion).

Treasury initially said the JobKeeper plan, which pays coronavirus-impacted companies a subsidy to keep workers employed, would cover 6.5 million people and cost A$130 billion. The initial flood of applications seemed to validate the government’s estimate, but Frydenberg acknowledged on Friday that hundreds of firms had incorrectly filled out forms, and that the program was now expected to cost A$70 billion.

Frydenberg has insisted the error is “good news” because the budget won’t come under as much pressure as anticipated. But the Labor opposition has seized on the issue, calling it a “A$60 billion bungle” and is demanding further answers.

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Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday that Frydenberg would be called before a Labor-led committee that’s examining the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

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“Josh Frydenberg hasn’t fronted up and taken responsibility,” Wong told the ABC’s Insiders show. “He should do that and we will give him the opportunity.”

Labor is demanding the Jobkeeper program now be extended to include casual workers.

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