The ASX-listed group — whose brands include Peter Alexander, Just Jeans and Smiggle — had previously said it would hold on to the JobKeeper payments as “insurance” in case of further lockdowns across the country, despite posting an 89 per cent increase in net profit for the six months to 28 January.
However, Premier’s board, chaired by Solomon Lew, said on Monday that despite snap lockdowns occurring in Queensland and Western Australia, the wage subsidies were ultimately not needed to support staff members.
The $15.6 million repayment accounts for JobKeeper payments received in the six months to 28 January.
“Critically, following the lockdowns and upon reopening, increased trading from the combined states has fully offset the cost of supporting our teams through these lockdowns,” the company said.
“The Premier Board, having regard to these outcomes, combined with the success of the Commonwealth and state government’s management of COVID-19, has determined that it is now appropriate to refund the net JobKeeper benefit of $15.6 million to the Australian Tax Office.”
The company added that it was confident of its ability to meet current market consensus of earnings before tax for the full financial year of $318 million, subject to stable economic conditions and no further significant lockdowns.
Premier’s move to repay JobKeeper follows in the footsteps of a number of large corporates, including Toyota Australia, Super Retail Group, Nick Scali, Iluka Resources and Domino’s Pizza.
According to the ATO, 33 companies have now agreed to voluntarily repay JobKeeper payments in the order of $180 million.
The spotlight on Premier is unlikely to disappear despite its about-turn to return the wage subsidies, with Labor’s shadow assistant minister for Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh, contending that Premier might have received up to $110 million since JobKeeper was first introduced in March 2020.
“Premier may have received as much as $110 million in JobKeeper,” Dr Leigh said. “Repaying $15 million should be just the start.
“Last year, Premier set a record profit, paid the CEO a $2.5 million bonus and paid a stonking dividend. They don’t need a single dollar of corporate welfare.”
Dr Leigh has since urged Auditor-General Grant Hehir to consider the amount of JobKeeper support paid out to major companies who have recorded higher revenues in 2020 and paid out executive bonuses.
The Greens have also now joined the call to force large corporates to return JobKeeper payments, with leader Adam Bandt having reportedly sought costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office on a new measure aimed at forcing companies to make a repayment.
“Billionaires don’t need public handouts,” Mr Bandt said. “The Greens will amend the budget bills to get JobKeeper money back.
“We call on every member of [Parliament] to back our push to force these billionaires and big corporations to pay back.”
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.