SOE bosses’ salary pack­ages need a trim

Taranaki Daily News - - Opinion -

Busi­ness lead­ers can feel the heavy breath­ing on the backs of their necks.

In the face of angst over petrol prices and the frus­tra­tions ris­ing with them, the Govern­ment has an­nounced it will force that in­dus­try into open­ing its books and pro­vid­ing greater trans­parency into how it sets prices and man­ages profit mar­gins.

Its coali­tion part­ners, the Greens, have sig­nalled they might push for the same scru­tiny of the food busi­ness, and the ‘‘cosy’’ re­la­tion­ship en­joyed by the few main play­ers in the su­per­mar­ket game. This is to be ap­plauded, of course, even if it pos­si­bly re­sults in lit­tle more than a few red faces around the board ta­ble.

But if this Govern­ment is so keen to be seen ad­dress­ing the ap­par­ent in­equities at the bowser, the bread counter and else­where, it needs to look a lit­tle fur­ther, and prob­a­bly into its own back­yard.

State Ser­vices Min­is­ter Chris Hip­kins and his boss, Jacinda Ardern, have an­nounced per­for­mance bonuses for pub­lic sec­tor bosses are to end.

That fol­lowed a freeze on MPs’ salaries and high­lighted a de­sire to place down­ward pres­sure on ris­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive re­mu­ner­a­tion.

This is good, even if it smacks a lit­tle of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency in the face of pub­lic con­cern, and mere sym­bol­ism. But if such things are im­por­tant to this Govern­ment, and we have no ev­i­dence to sug­gest they are not, we urge Hip­kins, Ardern and Co to look a lit­tle fur­ther still, to the sig­nif­i­cant salaries paid to those run­ning the coun­try’s state-owned en­ter­prises (SOEs). As re­vealed in a story pub­lished by a num­ber of chief ex­ec­u­tives, some run­ning rel­a­tively small, low-pro­file or­gan­i­sa­tions, are mak­ing more than $1 mil­lion a year in salaries and bonuses.

Steven Car­den, the boss at Land­corp, made close to three­quar­ters of a mil­lion over the past year, in­clud­ing a $90,000 bonus.

His salary has risen close to $200,000 over the past two years, de­spite the Govern­ment re­ceiv­ing just one $5m div­i­dend since 2014.

Sir Brian Roche pock­eted $1.68m when he ended his stew­ard­ship of NZ Post last year, de­spite the de­cline of its na­tional foot­print and the sub­stan­tial re­duc­tion in ser­vices. His suc­ces­sor, David Walsh, has signed on for a mere $896,826. Other bosses do­ing hand­ily in­clude those at Ki­wiRail ($1.2m) and Kor­dia ($1m).

Ac­cord­ing to its 2016 an­nual re­port, former All Black Bill Os­borne made $1.27m when he left the top job at prop­erty in­for­ma­tion agency Quotable Value.

These are crazy sums in any con­text, but more so when nurses and teach­ers are hav­ing to strike for rel­a­tively modest pay in­creases, stud­ies re­peat­edly show the steady de­cline of ‘real’ wages, and that pesky gap be­tween rich and poor con­tin­ues to widen.

This Govern­ment has an­nounced that it’s flush with cash. Our cash.

We hope it uses that to ad­dress the grow­ing gap and less to line the pock­ets of those who al­ready re­ceive more than enough. We hope the heat be­ing ap­plied to busi­ness is not merely hot air and is also di­rected at those SOE chief ex­ec­u­tives mak­ing many, many times more than the staff in their em­ploy.

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