The Senate has passed a motion slamming NBN Co’s nearly $78 million in pandemic bonuses as “excessive, unreasonable and lacking in justification”.
The publicly owned company responsible for Australia’s national broadband network paid out more than $77.5 million in bonuses between July and December – nearly twice as much as the $43.3 million in the previous year.
On Thursday afternoon, the Senate declared “the $78 million in NBN corporate bonuses during the COVID-19 recession to be excessive, unreasonable and lacking in justification” and demanded “appropriate transparency over how taxpayer money is spent on the NBN”.
The motion passed 32 votes to 30.
Labor, the Greens, Centre Alliance, PHON and independent Senator Rex Patrick backed it, while LNP senators and Senator Jacqui Lambie voted against it.
The motion also called on Morrison government Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and the NBN chairman to “rein in excessive spending and waste at NBN Co”.
The cost of the NBN has skyrocketed from an estimated $49 billion in 2018 to the current forecast of $57 billion.
The Senate also noted that NBN Co had failed to meet its own 2018 target of 8.1 million activations by financial year 2020, instead achieving just 7.3 million.
“For FY20, the NBN Co Remuneration Committee awarded Short-Term Incentive (STI) ‘at risk’ salary payments based on the recognition that the Company exceeded the majority of its corporate targets,” an NBN Co spokesperson told The New Daily.
“There have been no increases in pay for NBN Co employees, other than remuneration increases that were directly linked to individual promotions,” they said.
NBN bonuses raise Australia Post questions
The NBN Co’s pandemic bonuses have also raised questions about the government’s handling of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate.
“The Prime Minister effectively sacked Ms Holgate on the floor of Parliament for spending $20,000 on Cartier watches in 2018, but had no issues with NBN Co paying out $78 million in corporate bonuses during a recession,” Thursday’s Senate motion said.
Mr Fletcher was grilled in question time last week about the NBN Co’s bonuses and the government’s tough stance towards Ms Holgate following the the Cartier watches controversy.
“Given Christine Holgate lost her job over $20,000 worth of Cartier watches given as bonuses to executives, what are the consequences for NBN Co paying $78 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses in the depths of the recession?” Labor’s shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland asked.
“As was made clear in the way the government handled the Australia Post matter, there were significant concerns,” Mr Fletcher said.
“It was referred to an investigation … that advice did, indeed, find that there were significant concerns about compliance with the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act.
“What is also the case is the former chief executive of Australia Post chose to resign. We acknowledge her performance during her time in that role, but those are the facts.”
Mr Fletcher defended the NBN Co’s pandemic bonuses, saying “a large portion of the number quoted in the media today goes to a very large number of staff across NBN”.
NBN Co froze employee wages at the same time as paying out the nearly $78 million in bonuses.
Mr Fletcher said Finance Minister Simon Birmingham had “written to the chief executive of NBN, as he has to other government business enterprises, drawing his attention to a review of performance bonus arrangements for senior executives and equivalent employees”.
The New Daily put questions to Minister Fletcher.