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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 34

Senator CONROY (2:59 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Can the minister confirm that investors in the sale of T2 shares are still under water, with the stock trading at less than $5 compared with an issue price of $7.40? Can the minister also confirm that the sacked CEO of Telstra, Mr Switkowski, will take home a golden handskake of more than $2 million as well as incentive payments and entitlements? Minister, when the next CEO of Telstra is appointed will the government, as the majority shareholder, use the CLERP 9 reforms to vote against a payout for the new CEO if that payout exceeds 12-months salary or if appropriate and measurable performance hurdles are not included in this package?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Conroy for the same question which he asked me I think a day or so ago. The Senate was informed then and is informed now that, as we all know, Dr Switkowski has resigned and will leave the board of Telstra as of July next year—unless he steps down earlier if a replacement is found. Senator Conroy has asked, as he did last week, about Mr Switkowski's remuneration. I would say yet again that the government does not seek to intervene in the remuneration decisions of companies. Instead, the government's approach is to ensure that there is full disclosure by directors and that boards are accountable to their shareholders for remuneration decisions.

The Corporate Law Economic Reform Program (Audit Reform and Corporate Disclosure) Act 2004, or CLERP 9, referred to by Senator Conroy in his question, significantly enhanced director and executive remuneration disclosures that are made in annual reports. Among the information that needs to be disclosed is post-employment benefits, including retirement benefits, contributions and other arrangements to benefit employees following cessation of employment. As everyone would be aware, as a result of its corporatisation by the previous Labor government Telstra is subject to these and all other corporate law requirements.

Senator Conroy suggested that this information should be revised. Senator Conroy should perhaps try to think of a new question. We all know that Senator Conroy is the least charismatic of the roosters. Instead of concentrating on his portfolio, Senator Conroy is out and about undermining his leader and contributing to the paralysis of the Labor Party. If the Labor Party want to be taken seriously on telecommunications or indeed on any policy area, they should get some more questions or a different shadow minister.

Senator Conroy —On a point of order, Mr President: I ask you to draw the minister to the question and to relevance because I asked whether the government would be voting in accordance with the new CLERP 9 proposition. Clearly, she has just picked up last week's brief.

The PRESIDENT —I cannot direct the minister as to how to answer the question, but what I can say, Senator Conroy, is that you have been particularly disruptive during this question time, as have some of your colleagues around you. It is no wonder ministers do not answer questions if they cannot hear what is being said.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of reports today that one-third of Australia's top CEOs will receive golden handshakes worth more than 12-months salary, as well as other bonuses, shares and options, and that these packages follow a litany of payments to failed CEOs over the past 12 months? Minister, is the $2 million golden handshake to Mr Switkowski justified in light of Telstra's performance, or is it just another example of a sacked CEO being paid to go?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I may not have heard all of the points raised in the supplementary question but I can say that Senator Conroy should feel very grateful that his own performance does not depend on any kind of incentive and that he is not on a performance bonus because he would certainly not qualify.

Senator Minchin —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.