After spending a few years as a mouthpiece for Sydney investment bankers, The Australian Financial Review’s Rear Window column has been reinvigorated under the leadership of former Joe Hockey staffer Joe Aston. Aston’s latest target is Crikey favourite Ahmed Fahour, with Rear Window launching a freedom of information request regarding Fahour’s Olympic Games junket.
Sadly for Aston, and the millions of Australian taxpayers who fund Australia Post, the request was knocked back by Australia Post. Fortunately, your correspondent doesn’t bother with freedom of information requests. Instead, we went straight to the source, with Olympic guests of Australia Post telling Crikey that Fahour’s hospitality was extraordinary.
Australia Post took dozens of its largest clients and their partners to London (clients travelled in the first or second week of the Games) with the largesse including business-class airfares, accommodation at five-star hotels (upwards of £400 per night per room), spending money and of course tickets to some of the best events our taxpayer dollars could buy, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
Some of the guests included large Australia Post clients such as Deals Direct and Ozsale, as well as AFL boss Andrew Demetriou (we couldn’t work out why he was invited either). Exactly why millions of dollars of public money was spent by Fahour on such entertainment remains a mystery, especially since most clients have no choice but to use Australia Post’s eParcel service (it’s the only service that delivers to many rural parts of Australia). Perhaps if Australia Post didn’t have a monopoly, there would be a more legitimate reason to taxpayer funds entertain clients.
As Crikey reported in July, Australia Post appeared to justify its lavish spending on the basis that part of its cost was offset by issuing gold medal stamps after the Games. Given that Australia Post is owned by the government, and the very same government bankrolls the Olympic team, one suspects the stamps would have been able to be produced regardless of the sponsorship.
Fahour is, however, no stranger to controversy, with the Australia Post CEO being paid $2.9 million in 2011 to head the monopoly mail provider — about 120 times what the United States Postmaster General receives (this was despite Australia Post handling around 3% of the volume of its American equivalent). In fact, the former banker is one of Australia’s top 100 paid CEOs, receiving higher remuneration than the likes of Myer’s Bernie Brookes and JB Hi-Fi’s Terry Smart in 2010/11.
But in fairness to Fahour, he had grown accustomed to a burgeoning pay cheque. When the banker was lured by NAB back in 2004, the Latrobe University graduate received a $13.5 million “sign on” bonus to join NAB after leaving CitiBank. While Fahour was a senior executive, his younger brother, Moustafa, happened to be hired by the bank in a well-paid senior role.
After being anointed as a possible CEO, Fahour departed the bank suddenly in 2008. That was not long after a curious transaction occurred, which involved Fahour selling $3.2 million worth of NAB shares only one week before the NAB undertook a highly discounted equity raising.
We wish Aston the best of luck with his freedom of information requests, but fear that Fahour isn’t one to trifle with pesky shareholders or taxpayers.