Qantas has taken the
“gunboat” route to fix up its security problems by appointing the
just-retired defence force chief, General Peter Cosgrove, to its board.
His appointment was announced this morning by Qantas chairman and
networker par excellence, “Dame” Margaret Jackson, as you can see here.

Cosgrove
only stepped down late last week and will take up the Qantas gig from
today, which is unusually quick, so negotiations presumably began while
he was still working out his three-year contract, which was worth
$420,000 a year.

Having notched up 40 years of service in the
ADF, Cosgrove will be on one of those fabulous defence pensions which
explain about two-thirds of the federal government’s $90 billion
unfunded superannuation black hole.

As a Qantas director he’ll
get a base of $100,000 a year, plus $20,000 for each board
sub-committee he joins or $40,000 if he chairs a committee.

Then
you have the dozens of free flights that are available for directors,
specified executives and their beneficiaries, which are only revealed
obliquely in the annual report through the FBT that Qantas incurs. For
instance, “Dame” Margaret gets a hefty $400,000 in cash for chairing
Qantas, but the annual report notes she got $92,656 in “non-cash
benefits” last year and $9,300 in “post employment travel benefits,”
bringing the total to almost $500,000.

Qantas now has one of the
most powerful boards in the country which includes James Packer and
former BHP CEO Paul Anderson. But this latest appointment looks like a
sensible move.

Jackson is already very close to the PM, having
reportedly knocked back the offer to be Australia’s first female
governor general a few years back. Having lost the minister for Qantas,
John Anderson, the national airline’s powerful federal lobbying team
will be strengthened by having the prime minister’s favourite soldier
on board.

While General Cosgrove doesn’t hail from the air
force, his leadership skills, knowledge of often-botched defence
procurement deals, government contacts and general defence expertise
will be invaluable to Qantas in the present heightened security
environment.

It’s about time Australian business and the defence
force started working more closely as this has been a hallmark of the
American system for years.

The recent appointment of retired
DFAT secretary Ashton Calvert to the Rio Tinto board is another example
of this at work and various businesses with large operations in the US
should be knocking on the door of Michael Thawley, who has just
completed a successful five-year stint as Australia’s ambassador in
Washington.

Peter Fray

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