Bureaucratic bonanza: NSW public service executives paid $1 billion a year – Sydney Morning Herald

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The annual wages bill for senior executives at NSW government agencies, departments and state-owned corporations has hit $1 billion, and a flurry of top bureaucrats are now in the $600,000-plus club – but the premier says it’s worth it to attract top talent.
The number of highly paid senior executives at Sydney Metro has ballooned to 230, with nearly 50 staff at the agency earning $350,000 a year, and another 180 taking home a quarter of a million dollars each.
$1 million man: John Cleland, the chief executive of state-owned electricity company Essential Energy.Credit:Louise Kennerley
Annual reports tabled last month reveal the top personnel at several government bodies are paid more than $600,000, including Venues NSW chief executive Kerrie Mather, Police Commissioner Karen Webb, Landcom chief Alexander Wendler and Sydney Metro boss Peter Regan.
John Cleland, the chief executive of state-owned electricity company Essential Energy, was paid more than $1 million, including a base salary of $822,960 and an incentive payment of $202,448.
Two of Essential’s senior executives – the chief operating officer and executive manager of corporate affairs – received salary increases of $96,000 and $80,000 respectively last financial year.
The major department secretaries are also paid more than $600,000 under a determination by the remuneration tribunal last year.
The Herald’s analysis of 2021-22 annual reports found that across 59 major government agencies and departments, executive pay amounted to almost exactly $1 billion. Some small agencies were not included in that figure.
Asked about the level of executive pay on Friday, Premier Dominic Perrottet – whose $416,000 salary is less than that of many bureaucrats – said he preferred high-calibre public servants to private contractors.
“I want the best and brightest to be attracted to the NSW public service,” he said. “This government is undertaking more reform than ever before in our state’s history, and that has required the best services for our people.”
Perrottet said NSW had a $112 billion infrastructure pipeline. “Your alternative is you don’t get the best teams and you won’t get the best infrastructure,” he said.
Highly paid senior executives: Sydney Metro boss Peter Regan, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb and Venues NSW CEO Kerrie Mather. Credit:Steven Siewert, Kate Geraghty, Edwina Pickles
The sky-high salaries come as the state government has been at war with nurses, teachers and rail workers over the decade-old public sector wage cap, which limited them to a pay rise of 3 per cent a year despite inflation running above 7 per cent.
Troy Wright, assistant general secretary of the NSW Public Service Association, said the figures would be difficult for members to swallow.
“It seems funding is always available for those on top, but the cupboard’s always bare when the average person is asking,” he said.
Sydney Metro now has 182 “band 1” senior executives earning an average of $252,052 a year and 47 band 2 executives earning $351,591. It has an additional 852 staff, consisting of 623 graded staff and 229 senior managers. Senior executive pay accounted for 33.6 per cent of all employee expenses last year, which was down from 35 per cent in 2020-21.
In a statement, Sydney Metro said it had an appropriate level of senior management expertise to manage its $60 billion rail program.
“The nature of managing these projects requires a number of specialist roles for short amounts of time as the projects are built, which are then reduced when the projects open for operation.”
At the Greater Cities Commission, senior executive pay ballooned from 22 per cent of employee expenses to 35 per cent, including $578,000 for then chief executive Elizabeth Mildwater – since promoted to secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade.
The GCC also paid seven “band 2” senior executives an average salary of $388,680 and 18 band 1 executives an average of $239,650.
The government’s little-known but controversial Transport Asset Holding Entity, which controls $20 billion worth of assets, paid chief executive Benedicte Colin $589,375 – while another eight band 2 executives took home an average $360,000.
Executive pay accounted for 69 per cent of TAHE’s total staff costs. “In line with standing up the business, the most senior roles within the organisation have the longest tenure and as such represent a higher percentage of costs,” the agency said in its annual report.
Infrastructure NSW, where executive pay accounts for nearly 50 per cent of all employee expenses, had four senior executives in the top band, each paid an average of $508,670, another 11 people in band 2 paid $329,083, and another 28 band 1 executives on $242,180.
The proportion of staff costs going to Infrastructure NSW executives fell last year from 53 per cent – a result of the agency “stabilising its structure to deliver on the government agenda”, it said.
Essential Energy said its executive remuneration was determined by the board based on market conditions, experience, performance and responsibility. It said it had improved network reliability and delivered a 31 per cent reduction in network charges over the past 10 years, saving a typical residential customer $335 a year.
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