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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15032

Mr TANNER (2:52 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Is the minister aware of yesterday's Senate estimates hearing which confirmed that Telstra's CEO, Ziggy Switkowski, earns $2.4 million a year and is eligible for a 52-week redundancy package worth over $1 million? Can the minister confirm that under Dr Switkowski thousands of Telstra employees have lost their jobs, billions of dollars have been lost overseas and Telstra's share price has gone down significantly, lowering the value of the shareholding of 2 million Australians? How does the minister justify Dr Switkowski being eligible for a 52-week redundancy package, given Telstra's performance in recent years? Isn't this just another case of one rule for company bosses and another rule for everyone else in John Howard's Australia?

Mr McGAURAN (Minister for Science) —Slandering an individual is the form of the Labor Party, and none more so than the member for Melbourne. I do not accept the premise of his question regarding Dr Switkowski's performance or that of Telstra.

The SPEAKER —Member for Corio!

Mr McGAURAN —If he measures Telstra's performance against similarly sized telecommunications companies around the world, the honourable member will find that it has weathered the worst parts of the storm better than most other countries.

The SPEAKER —The member for Corio will withdraw that interjection.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —Mr Speaker, I withdraw it unreservedly.

Mr McGAURAN —Of course I am aware of the discussions at Senate estimates yesterday which revealed that the Telstra CEO would receive a payout equivalent to up to 52 weeks of salary if his contract was terminated before it expired. Whilst Telstra is partially government owned, it is an independent corporation and its board is responsible for decisions relating to its commercial operations, including the terms, conditions and remuneration of its chief executive officer. It is the responsibility of the Telstra board to set the remuneration of the CEO on a performance basis, and obviously that is in the best interests of stakeholders. In deciding on a termination payment for the CEO, the board would have taken into account a number of factors, such as the need to secure the CEO, having judged him as the best person for the job.

I stand to be corrected on this, but the Labor Party never exercised ministerial direction in its time in government and nor would it, I venture to suggest, exercise ministerial discretion if it ever came to government. If you wanted to wreck Telstra overnight, get the member for Melbourne, the member for Hotham or anyone else on the other side to run Telstra as a business: its market value would collapse instantly. This questioning is a bluff. It is an opportunity to slander an individual and demean a fine Australian institution.