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.
“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.
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.”
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.