Scott Morrison’s hand-picked COVID-19 co-ordination adviser has been crisscrossing the country during lockdown piloting his private jet with taxpayers’ footing part of the bill and Liberal frontbenchers hitching a lift.
Former Fortescue Metals chief executive Nev Power, who will front a Senate inquiry into coronavirus in Canberra on Thursday, is being paid $267,345 to cover his expenses as chair of the National COVID-19 co-ordination Commission (NCCC).
But Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM & C) officials have previously insisted that figure is something of a bargain for his six months work because it simply covers his travel expenses.
PM & C associate secretary Stephanie Foster told parliament last month that Mr Power was not drawing a salary for his role.
“The chair is receiving a sum which has been designed around covering costs of travel and accommodation, so the chair is in quite a different position. That’s essentially a full-time role,” Ms Foster said.
“In essence, that covers the costs of travel to and from Perth, accommodation in Canberra and any other incidental travel and accommodation that he’ll need over the course of the six months is what we’ve been planning around.”
In a statement last month, the Department said while Mr Power’s flights, accommodation and other incidental travel costs are being covered in his role as NCCC chair — he is not receiving a salary.
“In developing and executing Mr Power’s contract, the PM & C estimated travel to and from Canberra valued at approximately $6000 per return trip each week, $350 per night for accommodation and incidentals such as food and taxis, and additional extra expenses set to be incurred from other travel once internal border restrictions ease,” it said.
PRIVATE JET FLIGHTS
Flight records confirm Mr Power’s private jet, an Embraer EMB-505 Phenom 300, which can be bought second-hand for about $7.4 million. flew into Canberra again this week on Monday, June 1. An avid pilot, he is often in the cockpit for the flights.
And while he’s been largely working from Canberra, he appears to have secured an exemption from requirements that travellers to and from Perth serve out a quarantine period when travelling interstate.
Mr Power’s jet has also landed in Queensland and WA numerous times while their borders have been shut as he travelled to develop plans to help kickstart the economy.
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has previously sought more information on what private plane expenses taxpayers are contributing to as part of the $267,345 contract during Senate hearings.
“Does it cover the cost of his private plane? I understand he’s travelling to and from Perth in a private plane?” she asked.
“We base our costs around commercial flights. How Mr Power then travels and how he uses the funding is not our concern,” Ms Foster replied.
Asked if taxpayers were picking up accommodation in Canberra, travel to and from, and a salary essentially for a full-time position, the Department said this was not the case.
“No, no, no. The amount that I quoted was actually worked out by us to cover the costs of travel, accommodation,” Ms Foster said.
“I can take that on notice, but I don’t think there’s any — I don’t think it’s not apparent, but I’ll make sure that that is apparent. And I just want to make sure that my answer to Senator Gallagher was clear. It’s not a salary; it’s covering costs.”
According to parliamentary disclosures, the high-flying businessman flew from Perth from Canberra on his private jet in April, with cabinet ministers Attorney-General Christian Porter and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
Just a week earlier, Senator Cormann and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Ben Morton also hitched a ride to parliament with the COVID-19 commissioner in the cockpit.
Mr Power’s remuneration was revealed following a hearing of the Senate inquiry into the management of the coronavirus crisis, after officials first claimed he was earning $500,000 for six months work before revising the figure down to $267,345.
Along with fellow commissioners, including ex-Telstra boss David Thodey, IFM Investors chairman Greg Combet, EnergyAustralia chief Catherine Tanna and businessman Paul Little, Mr Power has been chairing the Morrison Government’s committee to get the economy back on track since March.