Companies which posted record profits while receiving JobKeeper should repay the money to the federal government, which could then redirect the funds to help businesses battling coronavirus restrictions, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said.
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised Super Retail Group's decision to hand back $1.7 million in wage subsidies, Mr Barr said it would be the "honourable thing" for all booming businesses to repay the taxpayer-funded payments received during the pandemic.
Mr Barr said that would create a pool of "potentially hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars", which the federal government could reallocate to specific sectors or regions still feeling the pinch from the pandemic after JobKeeper winds up in March - such as the tourism industry.
Federal health department boss Brendan Murphy's prediction earlier this week that Australia's international border was unlikely to substantially reopen this year has sparked fresh calls for support for the tourism sector, which has been ravaged by the pandemic.
"I think that will be necessary [Commonwealth support beyond March] in a much narrower range of sectors," Mr Barr said.
"What would help to make that possible is if all the companies that recorded record profits in the past 12 months hand back JobKeeper subsidies.
"That would be the honourable thing for those companies to do.
"Some areas of the economy have had their biggest year ever and arguably if you are making your biggest profits you don't need Commonwealth JobKeeper ... and you should hand them back."
Mr Morrison had earlier commended Super Retail Group - which owns and operates Supercheap Auto, Rebel, Macpac and BCF - for handing back JobKeeper payments after posting record online sales.
"What that says is people know when they need it, and they appreciate it when they need it, but they don't want to take advantage of it," Mr Morrison told 2GB radio.
"We can't run the Australian economy on government money forever."
Federal Labor's shadow assistant minister for treasury, Fenner MP Andrew Leigh, said businesses posting record profits could afford to repay their JobKeeper subsidies.
"A business isn't going to last long if it doesn't have the respect of ordinary Australians," he said.
"I think the expectation of most Australians is that if your firm is doing so well that it's posting record profits, if it's doing so well it can pay the chief executive a $2.5 million bonus, if it's doing so well it can pay out a massive dividend, then they can afford to pay back government handouts."
Mr Barr visited the National Arboretum on Wednesday afternoon to announce $3.5 million worth of funding for the tourism sector as part of next month's ACT budget.
An extra $2 million will be allocated over the next three years to continue the "More Than" marketing campaign, while $1.5 million will be set aside for a new COVID-safe tourism investment program.
Labor pledged the funding during last year's ACT election campaign.
The ACT government hopes the initiatives will help to rebuild Canberra's tourism sector in the wake of a horror 2020.
The combination of the summer fires and coronavirus pandemic wiped out $1.13 billion in overnight visitor spending in the year to September.
The local tourism was contributing $2.5 billion to the ACT economy and employing 18,500 people at its peak in 2019, before the fires and pandemic struck.
Mr Barr said the goal was to grow the ACT's overnight visitor expenditure to $3.5 billion by 2030. He predicted 2021 would be another challenging year for tourism, but was optimistic the situation would improve in 2022 and 2023.
The timing of the tourism drive was somewhat jarring, given Mr Barr and chief health officer Kerryn Coleman were only last week warning Canberrans about the risks of interstate travel after a summer holiday period marked by sudden border closures.
Mr Barr on Wednesday stressed the three-year marketing campaign would not be rolled out immediately, as travel restrictions remain in place for parts of Sydney.
"There is no point doing tourism marketing when your public health messaging is the exact opposite," he said.
"I think the main point here is that this is a three-year program. This is not about something that we are starting next week. We've got the campaign ready. Exactly where and when we roll out depends on public health."