In Senate estimates, Labor’s Murray Watt has been probing a claim by the former industry minister Christian Porter that documents relating to the modern manufacturing initiative were cabinet-in-confidence.
In August the Senate ordered Porter to produce the decision briefs and merit assessment packs prepared by the department with respect to the fund.
Porter refused, claiming public interest immunity and telling the Senate the documents “informed and were the subject of cabinet deliberations”.
But asked on Thursday if the documents went to cabinet, industry department officials told estimates “to [their] knowledge, no”. Rather, they provided the materials to the minister, who was the decision-maker for grants from the program.
Asked if the documents really did inform and were subject to cabinet deliberations, the duty minister, Zed Seselja, took the question on notice.
Asked if Porter had misled the Senate, Seselja said: “That’s your assertion but, no, I don’t accept that.”
He noted that officials had said “to their knowledge” they hadn’t, but he would need to seek more information.
Asked if the department would know if their documents were taken to cabinet, the secretary, David Fredericks, said:
I would say it’s more likely we would. There would be the odd circumstance where we don’t … The minister is doing the right thing by taking it on notice.
Guardian Australia contacted Porter for response.
at 3.25am EDT
An update to an issue we’ve been covering for some time.
Senate estimates has been told there are now 16,303 welfare recipients facing a debt due to an overlap with income from the jobkeeper wage subsidy.
Overall, the government is chasing $50.1m in debts.
That’s up from about 12,000 people and $32m, as we revealed in August.
Critics have contrasted the government’s decision to chase welfare recipients over the debts, with the large sums of jobkeeper claimed by businesses that ended up turning a profit despite forecasting a loss. The government argues that those businesses were following the law at the time, and that the ATO has recouped money from companies that knowingly flouted the rules.
However, the ATO revealed recently it was also waiving $180m in debts because ineligible businesses had made “honest mistakes”.
Meanwhile, a recent Treasury report found $13.8bn was paid to businesses with a turnover increase compared with a year earlier.
While the government claims the debts were caused by people not correctly reporting that jobkeeper income to Centrelink, some welfare recipients have told Guardian Australia their jobkeeper income was back paid to them at the start of the program, causing an unavoidable overpayment.
Due to a debt pause in place, they did not learn of the debt until many months later.
at 1.52am EDT