An artist's impression of the proposed Canberra light rail in Gungahlin.
The bureaucrat chosen to lead the ACT government's new Capital Metro Agency will be the territory's second-highest paid public servant on a salary package of $382,000.
The Canberra Liberals have called on the ACT government to explain the remuneration package awarded to Emma Thomas, whose appointment as project director of the government's new light-rail agency was announced in August.
Ms Thomas was previously the South Australian rail commissioner and deputy chief executive of public transport in SA. She has worked on several major infrastructure projects, including the Gold Coast light-rail link.
She was one of two key appointments the government recently announced for stage one of its light rail network. The other was John Fitzgerald, a specialist adviser to KPMG, who was named chairman of the board.
The government said on Sunday that consultancy firm Mercer had independently assessed what the role of project director for the new agency was worth but the final figure was reached in negotiation with Ms Thomas.
An executive contract shows Ms Thomas will receive a total remuneration package of $382,324 to steer the agency that will develop the Civic to Gungahlin light rail.
The package is equivalent to a 3.12 level executive in the ACT public service, with a salary of $325,239 a year plus superannuation and entitlements.
The contract shows the government was originally advised to grade the role as a 3.7 level executive, which would provide a salary of $243,714 plus entitlements.
The $382,000 package places Ms Thomas second to the ACT's head of service, Andrew Cappie-Wood, on a list of the territory's top-paid bureaucrats.
Deputy Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said the newly created role was being paid at a higher level than both the Director-General of Health, Peggy Brown, and Under-Treasurer David Nicol.
''That's a huge amount,'' Mr Coe said. ''It's up to the government to prove where the value of this is.
''If the government is going to be spending $382,000, then the government has to articulate the benefits to the taxpayer of that.''
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the salary package had been ''independently scoped'' by Mercer before further negotiation with Ms Thomas.
She defended the government's decision to upgrade Ms Thomas' pay, saying the $81,000 upgrade was a necessary part of securing the right person for the job.
''We haven't ever done a big public transport project like this and we did not want Capital Metro disadvantaged by not having the right staff,'' Ms Gallagher said.
''The government was keen to get someone who had a lot of experience. If you want a good person doing a job like this you have to pay a big salary.''