Late on a Friday afternoon is usually the ideal time for governments and businesses to admit they have made a mistake, in the hope that the news will blow over while everyone is racing to the weekend.
The government announced on Friday that it had overestimated the number of people set to receive the JobKeeper wage subsidy, and that the new cost of the program would be $70 billion, instead of $130 billion, and 3 million fewer people will receive the payment than first thought.
It's said to be the biggest policy miscalculation in Australian political history, and we will be talking about it for a long time.
What actually happened?
More than 910,000 businesses expressed interest for the government's JobKeeper wage subsidy program, where they will receive $750 a week for the wages of every eligible employee, if revenue has fallen below 30 per cent. From those forms the Australian Taxation office and the Treasury estimated around 6.5 million workers would be eligible for the scheme. So far 759,654 businesses have actually made the claims and been paid. But, as bureaucrats realised on Thursday afternoon, around 1000 employers filled out the forms incorrectly.
A number of errors were made on the forms, but the most common one was sole traders writing "1500" in a section of the form about the number of employees, where they should have just written "1".
So now what we know is there are 2.9 million people receiving the JobKeeper payment, significantly less than first estimated.
How did they get it so wrong?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg first announced the JobKeeper program on March 30, almost two months ago, when it appeared Australia's isolation and social distancing measures would go on for much longer than they now appear to be. That would have meant a much bigger impact on the economy than what is now being experienced. The press release from Treasury and the Tax Office explained on Friday that this has also contributed to the over-estimation of what would be needed.
"At the time the JobKeeper program was developed, Treasury estimated that around 6.5 million employees would access the program. This estimate was developed at a time when coronavirus cases were growing significantly in Australia and restrictions were being tightened across Australia and much of the world," the statement said.
"The difference between Treasury's estimates at the time and the number of employees now accessing the JobKeeper program partly reflects the level and impact of health restrictions not having been as severe as expected and their imposition not having been maintained for as long as expected at the time."
According to Treasury, the reason it took so long to be realised is that the main focus was on implementing the program as quickly as possible for businesses struggling. The employee numbers were also close to what had been originally estimated by the government, so it didn't originally raise alarm bells.
What happens now?
While this may be an embarrassing moment for the government, in the short-term no action is required because businesses who filled out the expression of interest form incorrectly didn't end up getting paid incorrectly, so the government hasn't overpaid any businesses.
Mr Frydenberg has taken responsibility for the mistake, but said it was ultimately good news that fewer people would need the wage subsidy and the budget would be $60 billion better off.
Does this change anything for anyone on JobKeeper?
For those who have been found eligible, nothing will change and they will continue to receive the payments. While there has been speculation the program could be wound up early, that looks unlikely.
What about all the people who couldn't get JobKeeper originally?
The JobKeeper program has been described as "historic," but even with that original $130 billion price tag, there were significant numbers of workers and whole sectors that were missing out on the payments.
Casual workers who have been with their employers for less than 12 months aren't eligible for the program, businesses that are owned by foreign entities or foreign governments are also not included.
The arts sector is almost completely excluded, as many workers live on short term contracts with various employers, and the university sector has faced serious losses but hasn't reached the benchmark needed.
Workers who are on temporary visas are also excluded from the program, leading to fears international students and other workers are being left in poverty without any support.
In the eight weeks since the program was first announced, peak bodies, advocates and Labor and the Greens have campaigned for changes, with those calls only growing louder over the weekend.
Asked about the workers who had fallen through the cracks on Sunday, Mr Frydenberg ruled out making big changes.
"We're not about to make wholesale changes," he said.
"We'll conduct a review of the program through the month of June and if there are changes that need to be made as a result of that review, we will do so."
The Greens have committed to moving a bill in the Senate to widen the eligibility criteria for the program in the week starting June 10 to include "casuals employed less than 12 months, workers with intermittent employment histories, gig workers, university staff and temporary visa holders including international students".
What does this mean for the economy?
The projections made by the government around the number of businesses and workers that would be relying on the JobKeeper program were a big part of the puzzle to predict how Australia's economy would be affected by coronavirus and how long the recovery would take.
Any calculations that had relied on those numbers now need to be made again, including on the government's debt, the number of people who are unemployed and may remain unemployed.
Global credit agencies, Reserve Bank and International Monetary Fund have all made assessments based on these numbers, meaning more work needs to be done before we get a clear picture about the economy, and what it means for workers and the budget.
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