AUSTRALIA Post’s chief executive was paid a total of $5.6 million in 2016, 10 times the salary of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, it has been revealed.
Ahmed Fahour’s salary of $4.4 million and bonus of $1.2 million were revealed by Liberal Senator James Paterson, who released documents provided by Australia Post in response to questions from a Senate committee.
Another five executives earned between $1.8 million and $1.3 million.
Mr Turnbull told reporters on Wednesday that Mr Fahour’s remuneration package was “too high” and that he had spoken to the Australia Post board chair.
“This is not a decision of the government,” Mr Turnbull said. “I’ve spoken to the chairman today. I think that salary, that remuneration is too high. Now, it’s a matter for the board. I think it is too high. I know it is a big job. It is a big company. The company has been able to improve its position.
“But in my view — and I say this as someone who spent most of his life in the business world before I came into politics — I think that is a very big salary for that job.”
Australia Post chairman John Stanhope claimed there was “no intention to try and hide anything”. “We’ve reported it every year as required. It did change in 2015 when the requirement was to do it by individual,” Mr Stanhope told The Australian.
“We’re not trying to hide anything. We are reporting as we are required to report. The Senate asked questions on notice and we responded and gave them all the information.”
The letters and parcel business had previously refused to disclose the salary of Mr Fahour, Australia’s highest paid public servant, saying there was “no public interest” in releasing the information.
The Senate Environment & Communications Committee has published answers sought in Estimates from Australia Post: https://t.co/r02BvwH2DZ
— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) February 7, 2017
In 2014, the last time his salary was included in Australia Post’s annual report, Mr Fahour took home a total package of $4.6 million, including a $2.6 million bonus. In 2015 he was believed to have been paid $2.1 million after turning down a $2.9 million bonus.
“The Oz Post CEO is effectively our highest paid public servant,” Mr Paterson tweeted. “That information should not be hidden from taxpayers.”
In its response to the Senate, Australia Post requested that the information not be released publicly, citing legislative reporting requirements, public interest immunity claims, and commercial confidentiality.
“The public disclosure of executive remuneration would involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information,” Australia Post corporate secretary Erin Kelly wrote.
Ms Kelly argued the release of the information “would not promote or inform debate of issues of public importance”, “may be prejudicial against Australia Post and those individuals to which the information relates” who “may become targets for unwarranted media attention”.
She added that Australia Post was a “self-funded government business enterprise that does not rely on any government funding”, so public disclosure of executive remuneration “would in no way be of any relevance”.
In response, Mr Paterson wrote that the final statement was “of particular concern to the Committee”. “Even if an organisation does not receive money through the appropriation bills, its operations may have significant implications for the expenditure of public funds,” he wrote.
“As a government business enterprise governed by Act of Parliament, Australia Post is accountable to the Parliament, and its committees, for the use of public resources with which it has been entrusted.
“The public disclosure of senior executive remuneration is a common feature of accountability within the public sector and for listed companies.
“While information about the salaries and bonuses paid to individual senior executives for major Australian companies and other postal services globally is freely available to senators and the Australian public, similar information is not available for Australia Post.”
Australia Post’s total revenues for the 2015-16 financial year were up 3 per cent to $6.6 billion on the back of a parcels boom, but its letters business is set to lose $1.5 billion over the coming five years.
Letters declined by a record 9.7 per cent in 2015-16, bringing losses of $138 million, but a potential extra $300 million in losses was avoided by overhauling the division in January. Prior to Mr Fahour’s reforms, the company had been on track to lose $5 billion on letters in that same period.
In a statement, an Australia Post spokeswoman said: “The remuneration of the executive team, including the Managing Director and Group CEO, is set by the Australia Post Board.
“Mr Fahour’s total remuneration package takes into account the size and complexity of the organisation, which has an annual turnover of more than $6 billion. It also reflects the large-scale transformation underway and that more than 73 per cent of its revenue comes from the non-regulated side of the business where it is competing with major global players such as DHL, FedEx and Toll.
“Mr Fahour’s remuneration in FY16 included a performance-based short-term bonus in line with Australia Post returning to profit. The previous year he did not receive a bonus.
“Total executive remuneration has not increased since 2014 when the executive last received their full eligible performance bonus. Since 2007 Australia Post has paid more than $6.3 billion in dividends and taxes to the Federal Government. Australia Post does not receive any taxpayer funding.”
Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon praised Mr Paterson for insisting the salaries be disclosed. “I think a lot of people will scratch their heads on that one,” he told ABC TV.