“Very positive”: Toyota wins praise as it pays back $18 million in JobKeeper subsidies

A decision by Toyota to give back more than $18 million worth of JobKeeper payments has been described as “very positive” by one corporate law expert, as the company strives to live up to its responsibilities as a corporate citizen.

Toyota president and CEO Matthew Callachor said in a statement on Tuesday the company contacted the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) in December to arrange the repayment of JobKeeper entitlements.

Callachor said, like many businesses, Toyota faced an extremely uncertain future “when the COVID-19 health crisis developed into an economic crisis that led to dealerships closing”.

Toyota became eligible for JobKeeper in mid-2020 when its revenue fell by 50 per cent. But, in the fourth quarter of 2020, the car manufacture sold 66,000 vehicles, which was 30 per cent more than the same period in 2019, according to news.com.au.

By the end of the year, Toyota delivered 204,801 vehicles – 975 shy of the previous year.

“In the end, we were very fortunate to weather the storm better than most, so our management and board decided that returning JobKeeper payments was the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen,” Callachor said.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Professor Ian Ramsay, director for the Centre of Corporate Law at Melbourne University, says Toyota’s decision to return the taxpayer funds to the ATO is “very positive”.

“It’s a very positive development, and one that I and I’m sure many others would welcome,” Ramsay says.

According to Ramsay, the driving forces behind Toyota’s decision are its better-than-expected sales performance as well as the company’s commitment to corporate citizenship.

“Toyota describes itself as a responsible, corporate citizen and of course with that role comes the obligations of being responsible,” he says.

“It would mean that the appropriate thing to do then is return the funds.”

Ramsay says that from Toyota’s perspective, as a major international corporation, returning the $18 million conveys a very positive external impression.

“And clearly Toyota would be aware of that,” he adds.

The ATO, the agency responsible for administering the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme, says it has seen a good level of compliance among businesses participating in JobKeeper.

“We have found some businesses have voluntarily ceased claiming JobKeeper when their business has rebounded even though they may remain entitled,” an ATO spokesperson tells SmartCompany.

The ATO is not able to confirm whether it is in discussions with other companies about returning JobKeeper payments, however, the spokesperson did confirm that businesses have the option to consider repayments.

“Any decision to voluntarily repay previous payments to the ATO is up to the individual, eligible business,” the spokesperson says.

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