The parachuting of Geoff Cousins into the Telstra board seems to have been examined from every angle bar one: What’s in it for Geoffrey?

The easy answer is $110,000 a year in director’s fees, but you’d have to be desperate to take this gig for the money, given the angst, suspicion and hostility that’s been unleashed before even getting to the board table.

Then again, it seems Geoffrey’s dance card isn’t exactly chockers these days. He is a non-executive director of IAG – and played a key role in its colourful history as a dysfunctional board until James Strong took over – but aside from that, well, the CV is rather bare.

According to IAG, Cousins doesn’t have any other public company gigs and hasn’t had one for more than three years. At the relatively young age of 62, he has lots of “formers” – George Patterson Australia, PBL, Seven Network, Hoyts, NM Rothschild, Optus Vision, Globe International – but the only other current position is chairman of the Cure Cancer Australia Foundation. Oh, it also says he’s a consultant to the Prime Minister, but that’s now in the “former” basket as well.

As for IAG, Cousins is on the audit committee – an important but not particularly exciting job that doesn’t seem to tap into his alleged media expertise. One must presume the experience of running the failed Optus Vision pay TV outfit provided the opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Maybe there is something a little simpler at work here – Geoffrey Cousins had a bit of spare time, so his John Howard fixed him up with one of the traditional jobs for the boys, a Telstra directorship. Not as good as a Qantas directorship (now unfortunately out of reach of blatant government cronyism), not as prestigious as a seat on the RBA board, but still a nice reward for faithful service. It’s possible.

That there’s a little politics involved as well, a slap at the unfaithful Donald McGauchie, could just be a bonus for Howard. As Kate Askew mulls in the SMH, perhaps Howard only miscalculated the reaction from investors.

Peter Fray

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