The Qld firms not returning $600K in JobKeeper

Queensland's largest companies - some of which are now making healthy profits - have returned only one per cent of the more than half a billion dollars in JobKeeper and other subsidies they have received during COVID-19.

AP Eagers, MotorCycle Holdings, Star Entertainment and AMA Group are among the profit-making companies in the state keeping subsidies totalling almost $600m, claiming they have helped to keep thousands of workers in employment during the pandemic.

JobKeeper was introduced as temporary measure to protect jobs when COVID-19 sent large parts of the Australian economy into lockdown, but surging profits among some recipients has put pressure on companies to return funds.

AP Eagers, the country's biggest car dealership group, has returned to profit and more than doubled dividends, but says it has no plans to pay back almost $130m in JobKeeper payments.

Eagers chief executive Keith Thornton said JobKeeper had saved around 2000 jobs at the company, enabled it to eliminate the need for further company-wide restructuring and facilitated a faster rebound as the broader economy recovered.

AP Eagers chief executive Keith Thornton.
AP Eagers chief executive Keith Thornton.

Brisbane-based MotorCycle Holdings, which sells Harley Davidson and BMW bikes, made a 258 per cent spike in first half net profit to $17.2m but said it was not of a mind to give back the $5.8m in JobKeeper payments it was paid last year.

MotorCycle Holdings chief executive David Ahmet said the company has accepted the subsidies "in good faith" as it faced dealerships across the nation being closed down.

Mr Ahmet said the company was fighting for its survival last year and there were real concerns for a three-to-four month period that it might not survive.

Star Entertainment, which is developing the multi-billion dollar Queen's Wharf integrated resort in Brisbane, received $103m in Jobkeeper payments but recently posted a $51m net profit. Star said the subsidies had allowed the company to retain and deploy staff.

AMA Group, the country's largest smash repair business, returned to profit in the six months to the end of December, compared to a loss in the previous period, helped by $30.7m in JobKeeper and New Zealand employment subsidies.

Michael Hill International, which announced a 82 per cent lift in first-half net profit to almost $39m, received $8.48m in JobKeeper support. It said wage subsidies received in Australia and other markets had flowed through to employees in full. The global network of Michael Hill jewellery stores suffered 3,709 lost store trading days - of which 2,567 were in Australia.

The company said JobKeeper was only received through to the end of September with no support received for the latter portion of the Melbourne lockdown, nor for the lockdowns in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

It said lockdowns in Canada had been ongoing and considerable since November - with many stores still not open. The recent Auckland shutdown was also unexpected.

Domino's CEO Don Meij.
Domino's CEO Don Meij.

A small number of Queensland firms are returning JobKeeper after deciding their financial position was now strong enough.

Domino's, which earlier this month reported a surge in profit, said it would return $792,000 of JobKeeper support it had received from the federal government last year.

Chief executive Don Meij said the payments had been helpful in supporting workers at Domino's pamphlet printing operation during the lockdown.

Collins Foods, which operates KFC and Taco Bell restaurants, said it had repaid $1.8m in subsidies received for its now shuttered Sizzler Australia operations.

CEO Drew O'Malley said that repaying the benefit when it was not needed was keeping in spirit with the program. "For us it always came down to what the right thing to do was based on the values of the company and what was the spirit of the program," he said.

Youth apparel chain Universal Store says it will repay $3m JobKeeper subsidies it received last year after booking record first-half sales and profitability.

The Brisbane-based company said the wage subsidies had allowed the retailer to support its employees through store closures during the height of the pandemic shutdowns.

The biggest corporate recipient of JobKeeper in Queensland has been travel firm Flight Centre which received $178m in wage subsidies during the December half year and suffered a $233m net loss.


Amounts Queensland firms have received in JobKeeper and other subsidies.

Flight Centre $178m

Ardent Leisure $12.6m

Michael Hill $8.4m

Retail Food Group $4m

Motorcycle Holding $6.1m

Star Entertainment $103m

Corporate Travel Management $13.7m

Eagers $130m

G8 Education $102.9m

AMA Group $30.5m

Universal Store $3m (repaid)

Collins Food $1.8m (repaid)

Domino's $792,000 (repaid)

Super Retail Group $1.7m (repaid)

Source: company accounts



Originally published as The Qld firms not returning $600K in JobKeeper

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