The putative new boy on the Telstra board, Geoffrey Cousins, had a whale of a time telling the press how perplexed he is that his new playmates don’t want him there – why, they were so nice to him two weeks ago and even faxed him a nomination form. The nasty turncoats! How could they?

Many of us old-timers have Cousins stories – I have my own dating back to 1995/6 when I penned a story suggesting Hollywood studios were fairly skeptical about Optus Vision’s optimistic subs targets.

In return I got what telecom journos call a Class Five Abusive Call, the type of which only Australian CEOs (easily the most profane in the world in my experience of four continents worth of telcos) are capable. “You’re not a journalist, you’re a liar” the conversation began as he proceeded to regale with me with an unrelenting flush of S-words and F-words.

But today I feel remorse for the true victims of the latest shenanigans: the card-carrying Liberal free-marketeers who stand outside schools and scout halls every two-and-a-half years buying lamingtons, erecting placards and helping the likes of Howard, Costello and Coonan get elected.

You know, the ones who read, comprehend and appreciate books by Milton Friedman and Adam Smith and Vaclav Havel and actually do believe that the government should do things like completely sell off state-owned businesses, remove the owner-regulator “conflict of interest” by allowing boards to manage their own affairs without interference, make serious and not insincere efforts to reduce red tape and only subsidise things when a market has well and truly failed. Of course, the current government’s policy – informed primarily by quotascraping agrarian socialists, and more latterly, by outrage at the Telstra campaign to find our “small-government” emperors some decent clothes – has little to do with any of those principles, and in case we thought otherwise, the Prime Minister Heir Apparent Peter Costello corrected us with a splash of populism yesterday regarding Sol Trujillo’s bonus.

“I think the company should explain how the bonus was arrived at,” Costello was quoted in this morning’s Daily Telegraph as stating. “Normally you get a bonus for meeting certain benchmarks, usually in share value. I think the company should explain how the bonus was arrived at, what the benchmarks were, and how Mr Trujillo met them.”

Well Mr Costello, you might have taken the time to read the Telstra annual report released Monday, which in 22 pages between pages 94 and 116 gives the most comprehensive remuneration explanation I have ever seen in Australian corporate history.

And if one of your advisers had bothered to read it, it would have been easy to work out how Trujillo and the other senior execs scored between 60% and 90% of potential maximum bonuses – three of the five specific measures were based around increasing broadband market share, speedy 3GSM base station rollout and cutting project costs.

All evidence from the rest of the report and numerous external analyses and so on suggests that Telstra caned it on all three. Criticise by all means that they might be soft targets or the wrong ones, but to imply that Telstra hasn’t revealed them? Jeez.

Peter Fray

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