Nothing exceeds like excess in celeb pay
AROUND the middle of this year the cycle will begin again and both the media and the public will have their sport. The annual general meeting is when everyone gets a gander at the levels of remuneration that boards set for senior executives.
Over recent years the leading edge of corporate remuneration in this nation has tipped the $ 30 million mark. The disclosure of these figures into the public domain is slavishly awaited by the press, both tabloid and broadsheet alike.
Evidence of corporate excess’’ is a mighty tempting concept if you are newspaper editor or a politician. Nothing ingratiates yourself with the punters more than bravely calling the elite to account. And rightly so.
All examples of people earning far in excess of what is fair recompense for their contribution to society should be exposed. After all, we live in a proudly egalitarian society where no person can be worth 600 times the average. And it is for that reason that I want to out’’ someone right here and now as perhaps the best example of excessive remuneration relative to effort and talent. And, oddly enough, that person is not a middle- aged white male banker. It’s Nicole Kidman.
According to the BRW Rich List the net worth of ‘‘ our Nic’’ jumped from $ 200 million in 2006 to $ 237 million in 2007. I have deduced that Ms Kidman’s remuneration during the 2006- 07 financial year was more than $ 37 million.
If reports of her creative efforts are correct, she completed three movies during this year. Her income for this effort was for the most part either directly or indirectly collected from average people forking out $ 15 or so to see her performance.
Now, I know how the media loves to get its teeth into a case of excessive remuneration relative to effort and talent, and so I can only presume that there will now be exposes aplenty focused on the exploits of Ms Kidman. I don’t have a problem with the media casting a critical eye over levels of corporate remuneration — in fact, I think this process strengthens our democracy. But it just seems odd that the scale of Ms Kidman’s apparent remuneration should escape media attention.
Or is the reality that the average punter has no problems with Nicole Kidman raking in tens of millions of dollars a year because, well, she’s so much prettier than a middleaged businessman? And as we all know, if you’re pretty in our society, then you aren’t called to account.
But there is more to this. Consider politicians. The average non- ministerial federal pollie earns around $ 130,000 per year. And for this, they and their families are subjected to regular job uncertainty and intense ( and often unfair) media scrutiny over years. And when it’s all over, as in the case of the former PM, they are vilified by a good proportion of the population.
How many board chairmen or CEOs do you know who would put up with this?
I don’t think we pay our politicians anywhere near enough to attract the right people. I also think that the media’s predictable criticism of the pay levels of politicians and senior bureaucrats is both unhelpful and hypocritical. If you want to target excessive remuneration, then also target celebrities. Or are they immune from scrutiny in our celebrity- fuelled society?
See the way the media salivated over two luxury cruise ships that visited Sydney and Melbourne recently. These ships are not
designed to deliver suburban pleasure cruises; these ships are akin to a floating Mayfair or Upper East Side.
If the world’s super- wealthy really want to float around the globe, then good luck to them, but does the Australian media, always ready to stick up for the rights of average people, really have to fawn over these ships’ sleek lines and elegance? Perhaps cruise ships fall into the Nicole Kidman category: celebrity, therefore untouchable.
The bottom line is that there is a double standard playing out in the media and more broadly in the community. Middle- aged, paunchy and balding male corporates are easy and popular targets for accusations of corporate excess, regardless of whether such accusations are justified.
The same logic seems to apply to politicians. And while on this topic I must say that we Australians have had bad luck with our PMs. John Howard couldn’t be trusted. Paul Keating was arrogant. Bob Hawke was narcissistic. Malcolm Fraser was aloof. Gough Whitlam was megalomaniacal.
By the end of each PM’s reign we had assessed them and found them wanting. I wonder what our problem will be with Kevin Rudd by the time we’re done with him. Pretty celebrities are off- limits to scrutiny of the value they contribute relative to the remuneration they receive.
Dare I say that it’s almost like a media conspiracy to attack soft targets ( who actually deliver jobs in the case of corporates, and social direction in the case of politicians), and to steer clear of those who the public decide are seriously gorgeous.
This assessment got me thinking about what other soft targets there are in the business world. How about any form of suburban development no matter how efficient or well planned? If it’s a separate house on the edge of a capital city then it’s ‘‘ sprawl’’. If it’s vertical and in the inner city it’s sustainable’’. The problem is that the property development industry is a bit like middle- aged balding businessmen: an easy target for reflexive negativity. Ideally the property industry needs a
Nicole Kidman makeover’’ to render it immune to negative thoughts: every time the punters see a development site they are overcome with warm fuzzy feelings. Hmmm, such is the magic of celebrity. Bernard Salt is a partner with KPMG; bsalt@ kpmg. com. au