21 January 2022

Canberra Grammar says JobKeeper criticism an 'ongoing campaign' targeting private schools

| Max O'Driscoll
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Canberra Grammar School

Canberra Grammar School is one of many private schools nationwide to come under fire for making significant profits while accepting pandemic support from government. Photo: Canberra Grammar School.

Canberra Grammar has hit back at claims the school’s acceptance of JobKeeper payments was the reason it recorded a significant profit in 2020.

Canberra Grammar’s Annual Financial Report for 2020 was released late in 2021 by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. The school has since been widely criticised after reporting a significant spike in its yearly profit after accepting $7.5 million worth of emergency assistance from the Federal Government throughout 2020.

The school’s financial records indicated a profit of $7.3 million. This represented a 187 per cent rise from 2019 when it recorded a $3.9 million profit.

Addressing the criticism, in a statement to the school community, head of school Dr Justin Garrick suggested that criticism regarding emergency payments such as JobKeeper was part of an ongoing campaign targeting independent schools.

He pointed to the emergency arrangements introduced in early 2020, which required free early childhood education and childcare as a condition of emergency funding.

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“To fund that, and in the context of the enormous impact of the pandemic on our boarding, co-curricular and other provision at the time, the school was advised by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment to apply for funding support including through JobKeeper,” Dr Garrick said.

“The school’s eligibility was confirmed by independent audit and by the Australian Taxation Office, and underpinned the school’s capacity to provide the government’s emergency early childhood arrangements in 2020 and to protect the job security of more than 500 teaching, childcare, boarding, coaching, healthcare, administrative, maintenance and other staff; thereby ensuring the educational continuity of over 2100 students at a time of extraordinary upheaval, uncertainty and strain for many families.

“Once conditions stabilised, the school did not apply for or receive subsequent such funding,” he said.

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Dr Garrick said that as a private school, Canberra Grammar has an obligation to their community to maintain an operating surplus to ensure their economic viability into the future. He also suggested that the surplus reported in 2020 was misleading, as this included funds tied to ongoing capital works not yet completed.

“Those capital funds continue to be committed to major works throughout 2021 and 2022 and in themselves have provided employment to hundreds throughout the pandemic,” he said.

He wanted to ensure that the community was aware of the school’s gratitude for the assistance from both the Federal and Territory Governments.

Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Federal Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh disagreed, stating that JobKeeper “was meant to keep battlers in jobs, not boost profits”.

“The Morrison Government says it can’t afford to provide free rapid antigen tests to essential workers, yet the Liberals had no problem putting millions of dollars into the pockets of elite private schools,” said Mr Leigh.

“JobKeeper saved jobs, but Scott Morrison allowed $20 billion to go to companies with rising revenue. There’s no getting it back – that horse has bolted. When they go to the polls, Australians will know that Morrison gave JobKeeper to offshore billionaires, yet wouldn’t make RATs free for everyone.”

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A representative from ‘Save our Schools’, a group that advocates for equality of education, Trevor Cobbold, said that Canberra Grammar “seized on JobKeeper with the connivance of the Commonwealth Government to extend its huge resource advantage over public schools”.

“It is absolutely disgraceful and immoral that Canberra Grammar got JobKeeper. The profits made courtesy of JobKeeper enable Grammar to increase its resources and expand its facilities for students from some of the most privileged families in Canberra – 83 per cent of students are from the top socio-educationally advantaged (SEA) quartile and 97 per cent are from the top two quartiles,” said Mr Cobbold.

“The school was already wallowing in private and government funding and had multi-million dollar assets to cushion against any downturn in revenue,” he said.

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doomattheend8:49 pm 24 Jan 22

Good to see the Greens MLA attacking a private school for a federal issue rather than keeping the labour party in check. Of course, a potential job keeper violation is more important than how school will return in 2022.
Why do we call schools out when the ACT government can’t keep to promised time frames?

Capital Retro7:12 am 25 Jan 22

Never heard of this dude. I note he refers to CGS as a “business” too.

How come no one is criticizing the Federal government for giving Qantas billions of dollars to keep them afloat?

Dominic Nixon11:16 am 24 Jan 22

Jobkeeper was for businesses with significant downturn which would have otherwise caused layoffs. Grammar didn’t have this issue. If they got lots of extra funding through jobkeeper, why didn’t public schools get the same? They went through the cave same upheaval. Give the money back, or give the same amount to public schools. Over $3000 per student. Thanks.

Stephen Saunders5:47 am 23 Jan 22

Canberra Grammar is a church school, and therefore has rights to government loot, uncapped fees, hiring and firing students, and anti-discrimination waivers.

The idea that the peasant classes should be able to criticise any of this LibLab sweetheart deal is intolerable, and one shares Dr Garrick’s concern.

Capital Retro3:31 pm 23 Jan 22

Nothing here about “church” here, Stephen: https://cgs.act.edu.au/admissions/scholarships/

I could say however that the policy is a Christian one.

Umm CapitalRetro Grammar schools are owned/ru (at arms length) by the Anglican Church.

Capital Retro7:15 am 25 Jan 22

I know that JC but it wasn’t in the link I referred to.

The “arms length” ownership is along the same lines as the Canberra Labor Party’s ownership of the Labor Clubs. To some people, unions are a “church”.

Criticism always targets someone. Why should private schools that already receive massive taxpayer support feel they should be exempt from campaigns? Can’t they ever relieve themselves of their unbelievable sense of entitlement, entitlement and yet more entitlement?

Capital Retro6:34 pm 22 Jan 22

While private schools indeed receive taxpayer support you must consider that parents make up the rest and often make financial sacrifices to ensure their kids receive the best opportunities.

On the other hand, public schools are 100% taxpayer supported.

Educational institutions like Canberra Grammar are usually not for profit organisations that do not have to pay income tax, so these profits go a long way to building fantastic sports, arts and other facilities enabling elite learning opportunities for students. If only public schools could offer these. Then all Australian kids would have a real chance to reach their potential.

It’s wonderful that some kids have these opportunities although equal opportunity would ensure our taxes were not spent on supporting such rich schools and students, when other schools do not have enough to properly support their less privileged students.

500 staff members for 2100 students. Amazing! That’s a pretty high staff to student ratio. I can’t imagine public schools have anything approaching this number of staff per student.

Finally Relented4:11 pm 22 Jan 22

Imagine what that money could do in public or low fee independent schools….

Exactly!!!! Wouldn’t it be wonderful for public schools to have better facilities? They don’t need to be as luxurious as Canberra Grammar, but could certainly do with improvements.

ChrisinTurner2:58 pm 22 Jan 22

I don’t want any of my taxes spent on private schools. They should be self-funding if allowed. How are their profits distributed?

Vinson1Bernie4:00 pm 22 Jan 22

Your taxes pay for all schools and Andrew Leigh himself in an ANU study with Chris Ryan found that private schools save the taxpayer $8bn per year (they receive 70c compared for every $1 for public schools). I believe the ACT govt has stopped funding new private schools in Canberra ( the majority comes from the Feds anyway) so we will see what impact this has on public schools in newer areas like Molonglo where there will not be as I understand it no catholic school..

Their profits will be spent on improving the school, which is how they’ve built such wonderful building assets over the years.

Public schools don’t have profits to spend on their buildings and facilities, because they don’t charge huge fees.

If business and organisations were able to be successful with Jobkeeper then obviously it worked. If there was no Jobkeeper and the businesses failed, there would be far worse criticism.

Canberra Grammar is not a business. It is a not for profit organisation that is exempt from tax.

… which means it is still a business.

Capital Retro8:10 am 23 Jan 22

LIke ANU, it’s not a business? Ha ha.

On the surface, when a private school returns a large operating surplus in a year that Jobkeeper was received, it isn’t a good look but when compared to private or public companies who distributed those profits to shareholders and to Executives via bonuses, the sins of the school are pretty small.
There are always issues with Government incentive schemes eg Pink Batts.
Andrew Leigh should be asked whether if they form Government, do they intend to introduce retrospect legislation to force companies to repay the Jobkeeper payments?

Retrospective law? Under the terms given, any offences must be considered moral rather than contractual.

Adding to my above, I am making zero comment on the merits or otherwise of the CG case. Anything related to a schools debate is more than I will attempt in short comments in the RiotAct.

You are correct. The issue is a moral one. A few companies have voluntarily repaid Jobkeeper, but most will just keep it.
It’s always easy for an Opposition (and this applies to both parties) to be critical, whilst in the safety of Opposition. When in Government, that rage is gone. For all of the outrage and steam blowing, they never introduce “retrospective” legislation to make good overpayments etc.
They just let it slide because they are all talk. Rarely do we see a politician of true character. It’s always the next opinion poll.

The out of context and extremely selective reporting of this issue us disgraceful.

Jobkeeper did exactly what it was designed to do, keep people in work during the acute phase of the pandemic where lockdowns and other restrictions would have seen them out of work and disconnected from future employment and employers.

Of course political interests are now looking to leverage their positions on misleading information because they know a large proportion of the population aren’t smart enough to understand and will fall for lazy soundbites.

Give it a break, chewy. It is easy to understand and support the intent and effect of JobKeeper. It was the complete lack of provision at the time for confirmation of need and possible recovery of apparent over-payment which was egregious.
Sometimes, one must acknowledge the indefensible among the good or even the self-interest.

Exactly, so much for “good economic managers” – who designs a scheme that excludes any accountability or ability to reclaim government funding when the recipient, after the fact, is not eligible for the funding. Compare that to the Robodebt scandal.

Putting in recovery provisions would have made businesses far less likely to access Jobkeeper, the exact opposite of what it was designed to achieve.

The money didn’t go to the businesses, it went to their staff to keep them connected to the workforce. It was extremely successful and it’s actually surprising that it was delivered by a Coalition government who are often against such type of stimulus.

Honestly, the fact that some businesses were able to rebound their profits so quickly is actually testament to how well the policy worked and how well Australia has managed the pandemic.

Attacking private schools like Grammar for this, is extremely lazy and intellectually dishonest.

It’s the politics of envy and it’s not a good look no matter where you sit on the political spectrum.

“Putting in recovery provisions would have made businesses far less likely to access Jobkeeper”
How do you know? With what design of recovery? I have run a couple of businesses. If in a crisis I were offered an interest-free loan automatically forgiven up to the point where I exceeded ordinarily expected profits then don’t try getting between me and the money. A design of that general nature is not beyond the wit nor understanding of anyone relevant to the case. I have done contractual design of that nature myself, and have you ever met the Tax Office?

“Attacking private schools…”
I draw your attention to my comment in reply to kenbehrens,
“I am making zero comment on the merits or otherwise of the CG case…”
because I do not have the facts, so do not try to smear me into the picture.


Because a large proportion of the people receiving Jobkeeper weren’t physically working during the acute phase of the Pandemic or were on significantly reduced hours.

What business owner in their right mind would sign up to a scheme that paid their employees money for doing nothing when the business would have to pay the money back later if they made a profit?

The risk to business for signing up to such a scheme would be huge even if they managed to keep operating during that period.

Like all stimulus schemes before them, there was leakage and rorting from people who probably didn’t deserve or need the money.

But that wasn’t the point of it.

And this is an article about people attacking a private school for receiving Jobkeeper and then making a profit, so whilst I respect you might not be referencing them, that’s what this article is about.

That is not a case, it is a non sequitur trailed by misrepresentation through misquotation. Perhaps you do not understand it, or do not wish to. Your other words are irrelevant.

I am a Rabbit™4:18 pm 23 Jan 22

The Government went out of their way to exclude payments for Universities which are privately run, but for some reason they could not extend this same treatment to schools at the primary and high school level? I don’t buy the “we didn’t have time” excuse.

Was that meant to be a reply to me?

My comment directly references the point you made, explaining why recovery provisions wouldn’t have worked and would have significantly affected the policy outcomes negatively.

Perhaps you don’t understand it or don’t wish to but it is what it is

OK chewy, I’ll spell it out for you. You wrote “What business owner in their right mind would sign up to a scheme that paid their employees money for doing nothing when the business would have to pay the money back later if they made a profit??
No-one, no-one, proposed that particular (and ridiculous) model but you. Anyone else can read my actual words (9:43 AM 23 Jan) to see I wrote differently, and have the experience to know it, as does the ATO among its existing practices.
Would you, personally, be so naive or nescient as to propose your design in reality? Do you expect the federal financial departments would if asked? Whether you answer yes or no, the discussion is effectively over. Either the subject is outside your capability or most likely you are attempting a weak straw man argument showing that you are defending a political position, not a rational point. A commercially sensible model can be (or could have been) implemented; you don’t want to know it, so you fling the straw about. What logical fallacy will you try next?.
Further, if CG would like to pay me a very large fee, open their books and answer questions, I will form an opinion on their situation. Otherwise I will make no comment here on them or correspondingly on any private or public company. Is professional detachment an alien concept for you, or are you so politically bound up here that you imagine it must be mirrored by others?

You talked about the design of recovery provisions and the offer of a loan with the policy.

Now you are talking about a complete redesign of the policy from what was proposed, which would necessarily have different components and delivery.

There’s no logical fallacy there, I was responding to your comment and written words.

Could a better overall policy have been delivered? Yes.

Would it have been akin to anything like Jobkeeper? No.

Within the actual policy that was proposed, have a think about all of the negative implications about putting in recovery provisions around stimulus money designed to get cash flowing into businesses, consumers and the economy quickly.

You are actually saying that the government should have provided an incentive for businesses to lose money after the acute phase of the Pandemic.

The negative economic consequences of doing so and the bad business behaviour it would have encouraged are huge.

I wrote “…an interest-free loan automatically forgiven up to the point where [it] exceeded ordinarily expected profits”
You wrote “…a scheme that paid their employees money for doing nothing when the business would have to pay the money back later if they made a profit”
Obviously very different statements to anyone with financial or commercial knowledge.
As one end of the continuum, you do not understand the question. As the other end, you present a straw man to defend your political position. I do not really care where you try fall on that spectrum, your position fails anyway.

I note that you now agree a better policy could have been delivered, which was my opening point (11:17 AM 22 Jan). It would be a simple extension. Whether you personally would describe it as “[not] akin to anything like Jobkeeper” is your taste but of no relevance.

In the interests of ending this peaceably, I have avoided comment now on your further words. Suffice to say they are wrong.

My comment:
“…a scheme that paid their employees money for doing nothing when the business would have to pay the money back later if they made a profit”

Was specifically around the actual implementation of Jobkeeper and the flaws in your proposal of a loan scheme as it related to the delivered scheme.

You claim that a new, better policy could have been designed but give no details as to what that would look like.

Because you know as well as I do that there are significant downsides to any proposal that either added complexity to accessing the stimulus money, slowed down payments or reduced the willingness of businesses to sign up in the first place.

Any stimulus package is always going to face issues of balance and competing policy objectives. As I said, I don’t think it was a perfect scheme but in general it was well designed and achieved some significant objectives that helped us through that phase of the Pandemic.

And your last paragraph is amusing, suffice to say, I disagree.

Chewy, do try reading the previous comments again. Still the same straw man now with special added fluff, although the more you keep digging the more I am leaning to place you on the “no idea” end of the continuum. You betray that again with your third paragraph.

For your further amusement, here is my previously elided comment.
You wrote “You are actually saying that the government should have provided an incentive for businesses to lose money after the acute phase of the Pandemic”.
Garbage. Less comprehension or heaps more straw. My general model does not offer any such incentive to a company whatsoever; they would lose from what you purport.
Are you familiar with company operations and accounts? Have you any familiarity with how the ATO or financial analysts find and investigate apparent anomalies? Have you designed and negotiated contracts which manage “over-success”? Or is it all just your political bias for you, constantly chasing shadows of self-justification?

I’m leaning towards placing you in the same part of that continuum also.

So seems we have finally come to some level of agreement on the issue.

Seven million dollar profit.

and as a not for profit educational institution they are exempt from income tax!

Capital Retro6:37 pm 22 Jan 22

As are trade unions.

Capital Retro8:13 am 23 Jan 22

And political parties and their “investments” (like Labor Clubs).

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