I am pleased that Senator Hanson has put in the MPI for today on this particular issue. I would like to start my contribution to this debate by stating my personal position as a senator for Tasmania with regard to the issue of Mr Fahour’s salary, and the transparency of GBEs and government entities more broadly. Personally my view is—and I am pretty sure it is consistent with that of the minister, the Prime Minister and the government—that the board needs to act. They need to address this issue and bring into step with community expectation the level of executive remuneration at Australia Post.
I cannot let the last contribution go without response—and, look, I am not going to commentate on Senator Hanson’s motives and—
Senator Whish-Wilson: Go on, Jonno, have a go!
Senator DUNIAM: I will not be commentating on Senator Hanson’s motives. I am more interested in ensuring that we actually get value for money out of taxpayer dollars, that government owned businesses operate as efficiently as possible and that the taxpayers of Australia have an understanding of how the businesses are using the money that is available to them, including for executive remuneration. Taxpayers are in effect shareholders.
My position is that Australia Post executive remuneration should be in line with community expectation, and I hope that the board acts and ensures that it is in line with community expectation. I am pleased that both Senator Lambie and Senator Urquhart are here. I am sure that travelling in the state of Tasmania they would have had much the same feedback as I have had. When you talk to the licensees and franchisees of Australia Post right across the state you understand just how hard they work to earn the small amount of money that they do in providing the service that they do. These are the people that make the organisation tick, the ones that get the letters delivered—in the case of contractors. And they are certainly not on $5.6 million, far less. I have had a number of franchisees, operators and licensees make that point to me that they feel particularly aggrieved at how the top end of the business is paying itself while the people that make the organisation tick are not getting the same sort of treatment.
You also have the users of the service, and we have seen constant increases in the price of stamps. I understand there are reasons for that, but it flows into a point that Senator Gallagher made before with regard to what the average punter would think when they see news of salaries of this magnitude being paid, in effect, to people that work for government entities—in this case, Australia Post. I think that is a fair point. There is all this commentary about people struggling to pay their power bills and make mortgage payments; people who have lost their jobs; keeping up with health insurance premiums and the like. What do those people think when they see an individual taking home a salary of $5.6 million? I think that is a fair question to ask.
If you do a quick google—and I did—with regard to what Mr Fahour’s salary equates to in terms of weekly earnings, it works out to be something like $84,615 or thereabouts. Compare that to what I understand to be the average Tasmanian annual salary of $69,518, or roughly $1,336 per week. When an individual on that amount of money is trying to pay their bills, keep their lights on, feed their kids and get their kids to school and they see an individual earning that amount of money, you can understand the shock and the horror that they may express.
We have also heard in the debate already comparisons to CEOs of other companies, larger companies overseas, privately owned companies or publicly listed companies. I have two examples here. The CEO of Google—a company without which, I suspect, much of our research would not be done—earns $652,000 per annum plus stock options, and the CEO of Yahoo earns $1 million. Mr Fahour is well in front of them on those numbers.
But, again, back to the points made by individuals in our community. I have been provided with a copy of a letter to the editor of the north-west Tasmanian newspaper The Advocate.I wanted to read it out to show the sentiments that are being expressed in our home state:
The Australia Post CEO total pay of $5.6m per year is getting some attention, as it should. Australia Post argued to the Senate Estimates Committee that releasing the information would potentially damage the Australia Post brand.
Well yes. Australia Post has 33,000 employees, 17,000 contractors, and the combined salary benefits of its six (6!) most senior managers matched half its profit. This is simply obscene.
The fix is simple, and it is not the CEO gifting back a few million. All government businesses, State and Federal, must be required to report at least as extensively as shareholder companies. Shareholder company annual reports provide board and executive salaries in detail. They also meet continuous disclosure requirements.
As a sense check, the head of the US Postal Service, as 10 times the staff size, is currently paid around a 10th of the pay, ‘just’ A$540,000.
Can we please make sure the Turnbull Liberal Government response to the current heat in this issue is not to pressure the Aust Post CEO to gift back some pay. Although I am okay if that is part of it.
Fundamentally there is an issue of accountability of GBEs. That Australia Post argue non-disclosure with Senate Estimates indicates to me there is a cultural problem. I would also suggest that it would be extremely naive to assume that Australia Post is unique, and not representative.
Nothing bad, that I can see, other than the cost of reporting overhead that we already put on private listed businesses would be imposed.
If I am entitled to ASX reporting requirements on a $1K investment in a business of my choice, why am I not entitled to at least the same level of transparency and accountability of my taxpayer ‘owned’ share of Australia Post, which I cannot reallocate?
That was from David Owens from Parklands in north-west Tasmania. I think he made some valid points there.
Other speakers have also touched on the issue of transparency. I think Senator Hanson made the point about declining transparency. With Senator Urquhart in the chamber I would like to reflect on the difficulty we had at the last Senate estimates nailing down a time, and the amount of time we would have available to us, to interrogate the officers from Australia Post. As the chair, Senator Bushby, noted in the Hansard at the time, the estimates calendar is available from late the year prior and everyone knows when they are going to be required to turn up and provide evidence at Senate estimates. But in the days before, the committee was receiving advice that maybe the CEO and officers were not going to be available for the full time that they were requested to be there, or that he was only available for a certain time. It all adds to this concern around transparency. I think we really need to keep a check on that.
I think Senator Gallagher’s point in the last contribution, that we should give the board the benefit of the doubt, is the right one. I am not sure I agree with Senator Hanson’s call just to sack them on the basis of remuneration. I do expect them to act on that the community concern, the government’s concern and the opposition and crossbench’s concern. As the minister has already said on this issue, they do need to give more rigorous consideration to the remuneration packages offered to senior executives so that they are in line with community expectation. They need to be conscious of the reaction when these figures come out. As Senator Paterson said, there was a reason why they did not want to disclose this figure, and that was, I am pretty sure, that they knew the reaction they were going to get.
In terms of reducing executive remuneration, they should take that into account when seeking to reduce operational costs. The point was made by Senator Whish-Wilson in his contribution that instead of hitting up the franchisees every time, we should be looking at the top end as well. I think that is a fair point. Some of the figures quoted with regard to the work that franchisees and other operators do, where they get a minimal amount of money for some very heavy workloads, need to be taken into account when they are trying to manage their costs.
So I finish where I started off, calling on the Australia Post board to respond to these concerns to ensure that there is transparency and to ensure that executive remuneration of this organisation is in line with community expectation. There is nothing wrong with transparency. Every senator in this room, every six months, gets a phone call from their local paper wondering why they have printed on so much paper, why they have taken a flight here for work or why they filled up at this petrol station. Transparency is good and we should ensure that it exists.