The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

‘Partying like it’s 1999’

$655k for Christmas bashes among NBN staffers’ $47m expenses

- JAMES CAMPBELL TOM MINEAR

THE government-owned company in charge of the National Broadband Network has racked up an employee expenses bill of an extraordin­ary $47m over three years.

This includes Christmas parties that cost $655,000 and meals eaten during overtime worth $616,000.

The Sunday Mail can reveal NBN Co also racked up $923,000 on “staff entertainm­ent” including off-site team meetings and conference­s.

NBN Co has already been at the centre of a political storm after staff received $77m in bonuses in a five-month period during the COVID-19 recession when millions lost their jobs.

Opposition government services spokeswoma­n Kimberley Kitching accused Communicat­ions Minister Paul Fletcher (right) and “his cosy club of NBN bosses” of “partying like it’s 1999 and delivering slow broadband speeds like it’s 1999”.

“His ‘ see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to management is causing tens of millions of dollars of high-on-the-hog spending,” Ms Kitching said.

A full breakdown of NBN Co employee expenses across the 2018, 2019 and 2020 financial years also revealed almost $800,000 was spent on overseas trips including meetings and trade events.

The company’s bill for entertaini­ng clients was $187,000, while a staff awards program added another $226,000 to the tab.

But it could have been even more painful for taxpayers.

Between July 1 last year and February 28 this year, the total cost of employee expenses plummeted to just $1.4m.

An NBN Co spokesman said the organisati­on cancelled all non-essential travel in 2020 and most employees who could work from home were encouraged to do so.

He added that all Christmas parties and end-of-year functions were also cancelled last year.

“In prior years, the company set a modest budget for department­al end-of-year gatherings, and for the past three fiscal years, spent approximat­ely $28-$36 per employee, on average, on these events,” the spokesman said.

“It makes sense to bring teams together at certain times t hroughout the year to collaborat­e and engage on particular programs of work. “Across a workforce of around 6000 employees, the FY20 ‘staff entertainm­ent’ spend was less than $5 per month per employee.

“Our employees are aware of our corporate expense policies and adhere to them.”

But Ms Kitching said that with Australia facing a massive almost $1 trillion in debt, the federal government needed to “rein in the extravagan­t spending”.

NBN Co has 13 executives earning above $500,000 and 733 staff on at least $200,000 a year.

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