Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, has defended the $2 million salary of NBN Co chief executive officer, Mike Quigley, saying that it was below market rates in the private sector and deserving for Quigley's contribution.
"Mike Quigley does a fantastic job," Conroy told Computerworld Australia at a media briefing this week. "He is a world-class engineer, and if you look at what he gets paid compared to the rest of the sector here in Australia, you'll actually see this is a very modest salary."
Thus far, only the salary of the company's head of government affairs, Mike Kaiser, has been made public, at $450,000 per year. However, Quigley's salary - worth more than four times that amount - was revealed when he announced he would donate his entire first year's paycheck to Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) for remote therapy of stroke patients using the Wii and other game consoles.
Quigley said the project was close to his heart, as he had benefited from medical research when he underwent a bone marrow transplant to cure him of Leukemia in 1991.
Conroy said the amount was justified despite NBN Co being a government-owned entity, and that Quigley had turned down a position at another international telecommunications company after leaving the chief operating officer role at Alcatel-Lucent to work on the National Broadband Network (NBN).
"All of the NBN Co employees are working well below the market rate," Conroy said. "Mike believes in the vision [of the NBN], he turned down a major telecommunciations job overseas to stay and do this job at a substantially reduced salary.
"While it sounds like it's a large number - and it is - for the work Mike has been doing, it is a bargain-basement price for a man of his ability."
Quigley attributed the salary to the complexity of the role.
"I'd have to say this job has at least as much complexity if not more than [the Alcatel-Lucent COO role] does," Quigley said. "While it was bigger, there's more people, there's also many more support systems. Remember this was a complete startup under public scrutiny from the beginning."
"It's really a question of what the Government decided to set the salary at," he said. "It is, if you compare with comparable complex jobs... I think it's a fair salary for the complexity and the difficulty of this job."
The NBN Co head was also sure to reassert his distance from negotiations with Alcatel-Lucent, with which NBN Co signed an $85 million deal for infrastructure equipment and services. While he admits retaining relationships from his 36-year tenure at the company - particularly in the US - he confirmed they were "not about business".
In approaching vendors for infrastructure equipment, Quigley said he was "involved in setting the overall parameters of what needed to be done, what we were looking for from vendors... but then i stood back".