Rupert Murdoch.
Rupert Murdoch (Image: EPA/Andy Rain.)

Australia’s highest selling newspaper, the Herald Sun, has been going to town on both sides of Victorian politics this week, after it revealed a newly formed independent remuneration tribunal had awarded above-inflation pay rises to Victorian politicians.

The front-page splash on Wednesday screamed “House of hypocrisy”. It was followed by another on Thursday — “Golden years” — pointing out that political pensioners will also be getting a rise.

It’s great to see Australia’s most powerful media empire holding our political class to account but where was the Herald Sun, or any Murdoch-associated media outlet for that matter, when it was revealed last year that the three Murdoch men (Rupert and his two sons Lachlan and James) had helped themselves to a record US$156.48 million (A$230.46 million) in salary and bonuses from public companies in 2017-18 alone.

Indeed, the Murdochs are the only family in capitalist history to have extracted more than US$1 billion in salary and bonus payments from public companies — and that’s before we see the 2018-19 figures which will become public in the next few days.

While the demerger of 21st Century Fox from News Corp in June 2013 was ostensibly a governance reaction to the phone-hacking scandal, it also facilitated even more outrageous executive pay largesse for the Murdoch family, including some unprecedented double dipping by Rupert himself.

You see, the 88-year-old family patriarch is the only Australian-born public company director who performs the role of executive chairman at two completely separate companies. Does he get paid half the going rate given he’s only a half-time chair? Not on your nelly.

The Herald Sun is owned by News Corp, which is only capitalised at US$8.4 billion and greedy Rupert votes his gerrymandered controlling stake in favour of his exorbitant pay packet each year. In 2017-18 it came to US$5.74 million for his role as the part-time “executive chairman”. Frankly, Rupert should be following the lead of Kerry Packer and doing this job for free, particularly given that News Corp has the majority of its asset value in Australia, a country Rupert rarely visits these days.

But the real scandal is at 21st Century Fox. Check out page 52 of the company’s 2017-18 proxy statement and you’ll see that Rupert’s last three pay packets from this company were as follows:

  • 2017-18: US$49.23 million
  • 2016-17: US$29.3 million
  • 2015-16: US$34.59 million.

The $100 billion Disney sale, which completed in March this year, will probably trigger an ever bigger payment in 2018-19.

Meanwhile, back in his home town of Melbourne, the newspaper that Rupert’s father helped build into a powerhouse reckons it’s an absolute scandal that Daniel Andrews will be paid $441,439 to run the state of Victoria in 2019-20, and that Liberal leader Michael O’Brien will collect $352,057 as the alternative premier.

Let’s put this into perspective. All three of the Murdoch men serve on the News Corp board, but Rupert is the only double dipper as an executive because Lachlan and James Murdoch are both classified as non-executive directors of News Corp.

James Murdoch quit as joint chief executive of Fox after the Disney deal but has remained as a non-executive of both companies and, for that, would probably be spending two days a month on News Corp matters.

Perhaps Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and opposition leader Michael O’Brien should send a joint letter to the editor of the Herald Sun pointing out that, in addition to the US$50.26 million he was paid by Fox, James Murdoch was also paid US$248,000 by News Corp to be a part-time non-executive director in 2017-18. That converts to A$365,000, which is more than what Michael O’Brien will be paid for his full-time job as leader of the opportunity this year.

Lachlan Murdoch, who collected US$50.7 million from Fox in 2018-19, was paid US$331,000 by News Corp in 2017-18, which equates to $487,563 in the local currency, more than the $441,439 that Daniel Andrews will be paid in 2019-20.

There’s plenty more hypocrisy from News Corp and the Herald Sun on this score. The company claims to believe in free speech but this post underneath the Thursday splash attacking the pay rise never got past the company censors, who were happy to publish more than 130 comments largely attacking Victoria’s political leaders.

The best contribution the Murdochs could make now would be to sell out of News Corp and allow the company to become a conventionally governed media organisation, not a hypocritical scandal-plagued outfit causing endless political mayhem and harm in Australia, the UK and the US.

Stephen Mayne was paid more than $1 million (in 2019 terms) for providing journalist services to News Corp between 1989 and 1999.

Peter Fray

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