While Ms Foster initially estimated the package to be worth $500,000, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet clarified on Wednesday evening it was actually $294,080 including GST, assuming that Mr Power’s role concluded after six months.
A spokesman for the department said Mr Power was 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,” the spokesman said.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Gallagher asked whether remote working was factored into the remuneration package, given “most of us” were doing work from home during the pandemic.
“He has largely been working in Canberra,” Ms Foster said.
The Western Australian businessman is on the commission with David Thodey as deputy chairman, Paul Little, Greg Combet, Jane Halton and Catherine Tanna. Peter Harris is chief executive.
Mr Combet, Ms Halton and Mr Little are each paid paid about $108,000 for two days’ work per week over six months, calculated through a $2000 daily rate, while Ms Tanna’s contract is worth about $54,000 for one day per week.
Mr Thodey is not being paid a daily rate, but the department is meeting his travel expenses, the spokesman said.
Former Dow Chemicals chief Andrew Liveris is a special adviser to the commission and is not paid.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the payments to Mr Power were “red hot” because the $500,000 figure initially cited amounted to an annual salary of $1 million.
“I really would have thought that, at a time when the main reason why someone takes up that job is because they’ve done pretty well out of life and they want to make a contribution back to their nation, I think a $1 million annual salary just fails the sniff test,” he told Sky News.
Peter Harris also told the hearing the Commission had processes in place to identify and manage conflicts of interest among commissioners, who are industry leaders in various sectors – but refused to give details of who had encountered conflict issues.
“By definition, when you bring in a set of people who have business interests and you ask them … to work on issues where they have expertise, you want them to use that expertise and background they have,” Mr Harris told the hearing.
“At times, they will come into situations that potentially involve a conflict of interest, so the committee itself has established a normal declaration process at the start of each committee meeting.”
In addition, he said, “in course of their work, should they encounter something that’s commercially sensitive information that could create a perception that they could be put in an advantageous position, they should draw that matter to [Neville Power’s] or my attention.”
Commissioners in this situation may have to remove themselves from the deliberations, Mr Harris said, or arrangement could be made for them to continue.
“They are the sort of people who have had a fair amount of experience in perception of conflict of interest,” he said.
Mr Harris confirmed that a commissioner had flagged a potential perceived conflict of interest on one occasion, but would not say who.
Asked if it was Mr Liveris, a director of Saudi oil giant Aramco who is pushing for a federal government boost to natural gas as part of building the COVID-safe economy, Mr Harris said Mr Liveris “is not a commissioner” but was “appended to the commission”.
With David Crowe
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.