Thursday, 18 February 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister confirm that, from July to December last year, while Australia was in recession, NBN doled out bonuses to its executives, management and staff worth $78 million?
I believe that Senator Kitching is quoting from documents published by NBN Co. As the senator would know, NBN Co is a government business enterprise that was established under a framework put through this parliament by the former government at the time in terms of its operation and its structure and the fact that it operates according to commercial practices and principles under those arrangements rather than standard public sector practices and principles.
I'm advised that a large proportion of the number quoted in the media today goes to a very large number of staff across NBN under the terms of their employment. Under those terms that those staff negotiated, there is a base rate of pay, and there is an at-risk element. That at-risk element requires certain benchmarks to be met in terms of receipt of that at-risk component.
In relation to government business enterprises, I have, as the Minister for Finance, written to all GBEs to inform them of government expectations around the new wages policy that was announced on 13 November 2020 and requiring them and asking them, to the extent practicable and commensurate with their commercial and competitive circumstances and the legal frameworks within which they operate under the laws of this country, to implement a six-month wage increase deferral decision, to ensure new agreements only allow annual wage increases up to the percentage change of the annual seasonally adjusted wage price index, and to consult shareholder ministers and the APS Commissioner before commencing any future wage negotiations. It's the expectation of the government that, where agencies have access to bonus arrangements, they should exercise restraint to the furthest extent possible, in keeping with community expectations.
Mr President, through you, it wasn't published by NBN; it had to be dragged out of them in response to a QON and it was 47 days overdue. I ask a supplementary question. How did Mr Morrison allow $78 million of taxpayer money to be spent on bonuses at a time when one million Australians were unemployed? Is he going to ask for the money back?
I suspect that, if NBN Co had decided to ignore the contractual terms of employment that they have entered into with their employees, Senator Kitching and all of the other old union reps across there would have been complaining about the fact that a government instrumentality had unilaterally decided to tear up its employment contracts. We have a large number of NBN Co workers who are employed under terms where certain benchmarks have to be met for them to receive certain wage payments. We have simply met the legal contractual obligations. NBN Co has met those legal contractual arrangements. And I have no doubt that all of the union representatives over there would have been the first to complain if a government instrumentality, a government business enterprise, had actually torn up any of those contractual arrangements between the employer and the employee.
Given that Australia is ranked 61st in the world for fixed-line broadband; given that the cost of the NBN under the Liberal government has blown out from $29 billion to $41 billion and now to $57 billion; and given that up to 238,000 premises still can't access minimum guaranteed NBN speeds, as required by law, does the Morrison government consider it inappropriate for NBN executives to be handing out $78 billion in taxpayer funded bonuses— (Time expired)
We've made it clear that we expect government business enterprises to exercise restraint. We've made that very clear. But there is also a reality that, as I said before, those opposite would be the first to criticise if those employers decided to ignore the contractual arrangements they had entered into with their employees. I have no doubt, if NBN had decided unilaterally to not deliver any of those at-risk components of payments, that NBN staff would have gone to union representatives, those union representatives would have gone to people like you, Senator Kitching, and you would have come here or to Senate estimates and sought to criticise the fact that employees weren't receiving what they had been contracted to receive and we were in breach of those contractual obligations. So don't come in here with a hypocritical stance when we know full well you would have gone and argued the opposite, had the opposite occurred.