Phil Burgess, deductable donations and QANTAS perks

July 22, 2008

Here are Stephen Mayne's four stories from the Crikey edition on Monday, 10 April, 2006.

4. Is Phil Burgess getting a bonus or the sack?

By Stephen Mayne

A senior business journalist rang on Friday to say that Telstra insiders were claiming my new bro, Big Phil Burgess, was going to receive a bonus for "getting Crikey onside". A little harmless fun hardly makes us "onside". Crikey is simply extending a helping hand to a little known website that deserves a bit more attention.

Sadly, the Crikey army let me down a bit on Thursday, because that plug to 35,000 people imploring them to visit Telstra's rarely viewed and highly unusual only generated an extra 400 visits. Big Phil's follow-up email read as follows:
The good news – for you and us: Our webmeister reports a 65% lift in our visitor numbers yesterday.

The bad news: The increase was about 400 of your 35,000. What is going on? I figure we should get at least 10%, given your influence – that would be 3,500 extra…or 3,100 SHORT!

You should at the minimum get 2% (the response rate for a typical mailed survey). That would give us 700. You are 300 short there, mate. Don't let me down on this. I know it has only been a day, but still….
Ok, let's try again. Here are some direct links which you should visit to see the more interesting and novel things on the site which cost Telstra shareholders and taxpayers $60,000 to establish:
  • The big attack on Telstra's regulatory burdens.
  • The Phil Burgess presentation at the "Is the AGM dead?" symposium
  • The Telstra cartoonist – our guru Mark Cornwall is certainly not under threat of losing his status as Australia's best online cartoonist.
  • The Rod Bruem blog – what other PR boss in Australia does this?
  • How Telstra's man in FNQ is helping clean up after Cyclone Larry.
Meanwhile, Big Phil has made it clear he sees Australia as a strictly short-term option. Like his mate Sol Trujillo, Burgess is on the advisory board of the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. But Telstra's highly-paid Group Managing Director of Public Policy and Communications evidently regards the telco as his second string. His UCLA entry described Burgess firstly firstly as President of the Annapolis Institute and secondly, as: “Temporary: Group Managing Director of Public Policy, Communications and Corporate Affairs for the Telstra Corporation.”

Is Big Phil about to get the flick or did he tell UCLA to describe his Telstra gig as "temporary" because he'll be voluntarily heading home once T3 is done and dusted, or before?

He certainly is one out of the box. Lateline host Tony Jones described him as "a breath of fresh air" at last week's forums to discuss the AGM, so don't be surprised if he pops up on Aunty's late night current affairs show sometime soon. That'll further annoy those precious souls inside the Howard Government, as they're still apparently seething over Phil's comment about not recommending Telstra shares to his mother.

8. Why should political donations be tax deductible?

By Stephen Mayne, who is contemplating a tilt at this year's Victorian election

Ever asked yourself what sort of non-work related payments should be tax deductible? It's a question that left wing Federal Labor MP Alan Griffin turned his mind to when he launched this ferocious attack on the Howard Government's sweeping and controversial legislation on electoral reform.

Griffin opened his second speech on March 29 as follows:
The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 represents one of the most outrageous attacks on Australian democracy since 1901. While we are supportive of some of the minor clauses of this bill, its most substantial sections make it completely unacceptable.
Griffin's main beef is with the proposed early closure of the electoral roll and the increases in disclosure thresholds for political donations from $1500 to $10,000. However, he also lets fly at the proposal to increase tax deductibility of political donations:
Labor believes that the proposed increase from $100 to $1,500 for individuals or corporations and independent candidates is a completely inappropriate way to spend taxpayers' money. It is just another example of the coalition government looking after themselves and their mates at the expense of ordinary Australians. According the government's own figures, it is estimated that these changes will slug Australian taxpayers to the tune of $22 million over four years.
It's a very interesting point, which goes to the question of the government's priorities. What other spending in Australia is tax deductible? You get no breaks for hiring a nanny to help look after your children. There's no support for families who spend after-tax dollars sending their children to private schools. Parents, primarily dads, who get slugged huge sums in child support also get no tax breaks.

Surely parents who want to, or are compelled by law, to spend money on the welfare, care and education of their children deserve some sort of tax break. A maximum of $1500 a year would go a long way. So why should the same parent get a $1500 tax deduction for giving the Liberal Party a donation?

The same goes for negative gearing investments, primarily shares and housing. Why is that more important than investing in education and family? All negative gearing achieves is the burgeoning of consumer debt and the creation of asset price bubbles in some sectors.

Conveniently, the new law will take effect in May, once it has received Royal Assent, so all the political parties will be able to join the traditional "write your cheque in June to get a tax break" marketing push.

10. Why should taxpayers subsidise another stadium?

By Stephen Mayne

It was hardly a surprise when the Herald Sun splashed last Friday's paper with the story of Melbourne's new $190 million taxpayer funded stadium. After all, News Ltd's 100%-owned NRL franchise Melbourne Storm, along with fledgling soccer team Melbourne Victory, are the two biggest winners.

No wonder the paper editorialised that "the sporting capital of the world is on another winner". Don't be surprised if the quid pro quo is more positive Herald Sun coverage for the Bracks Government in this election year because Rupert is the past master of extracting commercial concessions from government leading into elections.

Having just spent $1.1 billion on the Commonwealth Games, it seems utterly bizarre for taxpayers to now build a new dedicated soccer and rugby stadium to replace Olympic Park, which can seat 11,000 for Storm and Victory games, but squeeze more than 18,000 in thanks to the large standing room area.

Despite winning the 1999 premiership and years of undeserved boosterism in the Herald Sun, Storm still hasn't caught the public's imagination and rarely if ever fills Olympic Park. Melbourne Victory only managed a sell-out in its first game and the Sydney clash last year, but it does have better long term prospects than Rupert's floundering franchise which loses up to $5 million a year.

Victory was predictably upbeat about the stadium, as was Melbourne Storm in this press release. This was no surprise given that taxpayers are picking up $150 million of the tab, easily exceeding the $77 million commitment to the $500 million redevelopment of the MCG, which is now the world largest seated stadium.

Melbourne Football Club will move its administration to the new rubgy and soccer stadium, which seems even more bizarre given that they obviously weren't properly accommodated in the revamped MCG.

Even The Age failed to apply a critical eye to the proposal as it too put the story on page one. Maybe editor Andrew Jaspan didn't want to upset Fairfax chairman Ron Walker or Melbourne Victory, which adopted The Age as its official newspaper last year, much to the chagrin of Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden who responded by churlishly clamping down on positive coverage for the team.

However, the Herald Sun's letters pages on Saturday were crackling with complaints from citizens who agree with the proposition that more money should be directed to delivering basic services rather than propping up privately owned sporting teams. Indeed.

22. The Qantas perks avalanche

By Stephen Mayne

The emails are absolutely pouring in over how Qantas dishes out perks, so we'll have enough for an item every day for the rest of this week. Keep them coming to and here are three interesting tips to chew on today:

State MPs booted out of Chairman's Lounge

A state Labor MP in WA writes:
Your question about Qantas's motive might be answered by their recent cancellation of the Chairman's Club membership for State MPs for everyone except the Premier and Deputy Premier. It used to be all Ministers, Opposition Leaders and previous Ministers retaining their honorific but, as of a week or so ago, no longer. State Ministers don't have much influence on airline policy anymore, do they?

Pollies who make a cash profit

A former Qantas employee writes:
A prominent politician actually boasted to me between Sydney and Perth that he surrendered his taxpayer funded first class tickets for cash, purchased economy tickets and pocketed the balance. He then ensured that he was made known to management for a first class upgrade . That he would boast of this to a relative stranger says it all about his ilk . The strategy of ensuring upgrades from a cheaper ticket appeared common .

Another Minister at the time who I have a degree of respect for advised that he regularly exchanged his taxpayer funded first class ticket for multiple cheaper ones.

There are also some interesting minor scandals attached to the travel arrangements and staff appointments of former Qantas board members , especially those who were political appointees.

The one perk Qantas sales executives miss out on

A travel industry insider writes:
Qantas and other airline senior executives not only look after the pollies but also themselves. It is common practice that senior sales and marketing guys/girls in the travel industry and airlines swap free tickets with colleagues and associates (excluding taxes). Most of them are also frequent flyers and they use the points for their families. They always seem to find a seat for themselves (on points or free) and their entourage in peak season. They also travel mostly at the pointy end. The drawback is no access to the Chairman's Lounge.