(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

Is there a worse look during an economic crisis than a government agency showering its executives with millions in cash and other perks?

It cost Australia Post’s CEO Christine Holgate her job when it was revealed her executives took home $20,000 worth of Cartier watches.

Yet this morning the government has been strangely silent on a far larger example of corporate largesse by another publicly owned company.

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NBN Co revealed it paid an extraordinary $77 million in short-term bonuses to executives and employees over five months — between July and December 2020 — right in the middle of Australia’s first recession in decades.

The amount is eye-watering and well and truly eclipses Australia Post’s watch indiscretions (indiscretions Scott Morrison called appalling and “disgraceful”).

Yet the figures emerged only as part of a political football in the Senate after NBN responded to questions on notice 47 days after they were due.

Far from Morrison’s vocal indignation over the Australia Post affair, the government has so far declined to comment, with Labor accusing NBN and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher of going so far as to try to prevent the Senate from getting the information.

So who got the money?

More than $3 million went to the executive team. CEO Stephen Rue took home $1.17 million in bonuses for the year. His bonus alone is twice Morrison’s salary, and takes his total salary to $3.14 million, making him one of the best paid government employees.

The rest was paid to NBN employees through a short-term incentive scheme.

But not every employee was well looked after. The bonus scheme was paid out not only in the middle of a recession but at a time in which the agency shed more than 800 jobs in a long-anticipated downsizing.

Incredibly, NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski noted the poor timing in the company’s annual report but said that since bonuses were not calculated on head count they would be paid regardless.

Will Morrison decide that $77 million in bonuses is as bad a look as four luxury watches? So far he remains silent.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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