In his first day as Herald Sun editor, Damon Johnston decided to take a whack at Victoria’s 665 elected local government councillors. The boy from Perth even admitted to Jon Faine on 774 ABC Melbourne this morning that he was involved in directly editing this page-nine lead on Saturday, which began as follows:

“Mayors and councillors have been awarded big pay rises by the Baillieu government — as rates are spiralling upwards and public sector jobs are being axed.”

I spent three productive years working with Johnston on the Herald Sun during the peak of the Kennett revolution in the mid-1990s. He was state political reporter and I was business editor, but that clearly didn’t count for much when this letter was submitted for publication in today’s paper:

It is wrong to claim (“Vote-winner for some“, July 7) Victorian “councillors have been awarded big pay rises by the Baillieu government”.

Since the last elections in 2008, most councillors have received pay rises of just 2.5% per year, which is lower than all areas of the private sector, all union covered public sector workers and state and federal politicians.

As an elected representative at Manningham City Council, I spend about 25 hours a week on council business and get paid $25,000 a year, which is equivalent to less than $20 per hour.

The real story of last week was the revelation that Victorian councils will be hit with a $400 million cash call on July 1 next year after a blow out in unfunded superannuation pension liabilities for some council workers, who have typically been getting 4-5% annual pay rises in recent years.

The Australian Services Union has a clear conflict of interest courtesy of its two seats on the board of Vision Super, which is now telling councils to cough up the $400 million shortfall which was partly caused by excessive wage claims negotiated by the same union.

Rather than attacking underpaid councillors, the Herald Sun should be calling for better paid councillors in the hope of attracting quality candidates at the upcoming elections, including more people with a business background who can effectively manage staff costs and superannuation liabilities.

Stephen Mayne

Alas, the letter didn’t appear, so no right of reply was afforded to unfairly maligned local government councillors.

Johnston visited Faine for a lengthy session in the ABC studio this morning and performed well dealing with a range of talk-back calls. I was the last of about 10 callers to get to air and asked why the right of reply letter didn’t appear and whether Damon would disclose his salary as Herald Sun editor.

Bizarrely, Faine protected the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s biggest-selling Australian paper by claiming he was a private citizen.

It was pointed out that he worked for a public company, News Corp, which does disclose that executive chairman Rupert Murdoch is paid more than $20 million year. Indeed, Rupert earns about the same as what all 665 Victorian councillors get and doesn’t need the money given his stake in News Corp is worth almost $8 billion.

With all this protection from Faine, Johnston’s only response was that he’d edited the story and there were some mayors and councillors who had received a 4% pay rise. Whoopee doo.

There was nothing on the issue of rights of reply and nothing on his own salary as he sits in judgment of everyone else. It will be interesting to see if the letter belatedly gets a run tomorrow, otherwise it will be off to the revitalised Australian Press Council.

*Stephen Mayne is a City of Manningham councillor and was not paid for this item