The chairman of Australia Post has admitted to a Senate committee his board made a mistake by not disclosing publicly a breakdown of the salaries it pays senior management.
John Stanhope made the admission while defending the $5.6 million pay packet of outgoing managing director Ahmed Fahour, who is calling it quits after a seven-year stint.
Mr Stanhope argued Mr Fahour didn’t just run a postal service but rather an e-commerce company.
“We need our salary packages to be commercially competitive to attract and retain talented people in a competitive, executive talent market,” he told a Senate hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.
But Mr Stanhope conceded the CEO’s remuneration was inconsistent with community expectations.
He also admitted it was a mistake not to specifically disclose the salaries of senior management in the company’s annual report and it would change that practice in the future.
Mr Stanhope revealed Malcolm Turnbull, when previously communications minister, raised the “quite high” pay packet with him.
Once Mr Fahour’s salary made headlines in early February, the now-prime minister picked up the phone and made an 8am call to Mr Stanhope.
Mr Fahour admitted he had been thinking about leaving for some time but the debate over his salary sharpened his mind about when to go.
“I have loved and cherished every moment of this opportunity,” he told senators.
“I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the past seven years.”
That includes avoiding a government bailout.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield earlier revealed he had a general understanding that Mr Fahour was “well renumerated from things which had been in the public domain and in previous annual reports”.
“But I didn’t know the specific breakdown,” he told the committee.
Nor did departmental officials.
Mr Fahour only advised the minister of his multi-million salary and bonus shortly before details were provided to the committee.
The government has proposed the independent Remuneration Tribunal determine the pay and conditions of future Australia Post managing directors.
Asked whether that measure could be extended to the national broadband network, Senator Fifield said the situations were different.
“NBN is a growing business. It’s one of the most complex infrastructure projects in Australia’s history,” he said.
“There’s strong competition for senior telco executives.”
NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow pocketed $3.6 million last financial year.
NBN has also been disclosing its salaries publicly so it hasn’t been subject to the same scrutiny, Senator Fifield said.
Mr Morrow is scheduled to appear before estimates on Tuesday night.
The minister denied the government was at all influenced by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in how it handled the issue of Mr Fahour’s pay.
“We march to the beat of our own drum,” he said.
Mr Fahour hit out at Senator Hanson over her repeated criticism of him and his faith, insisting he feels sorry for her.
Senator Hanson did not appear at the hearing to ask questions.