The business leader picked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to head the federal government's National COVID-19 Coordination Commission is receiving expenses of almost $300,000 for six months work.
A Senate committee inquiring into the government's coronavirus response was told that former Fortescue Metals managing director Nev Power was being paid $267,345 plus GST to cover travel and expenses while chairing the commission, which was set up in late March to minimise the social and economic impact of the pandemic.
"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," a department spokesperson said. The spokesperson said Mr Power was not receiving a salary.
Government officials revealed the names of six other commissioners, including former Telstra boss David Thodey, former Labor minister Greg Combet, former department secretary Jane Halton, Catherine Tanna and former Dow Chemicals head Andrew Liveris.
The PM&C spokesperson said the commissioners had entered into individual arrangements.
"For Mr Combet, Ms Halton, and Mr Little this is two days per week, the approximate value of each contract is $108,000, paid monthly over the six month period," the spokesperson said.
"For Ms Tanna this is one day per week, the approximate value of the contract is $54,000, paid monthly over the six month period. Mr Thodey is not being paid a daily rate, but the Department is meeting his travel expenses."
The government has budgeted $3 million a year to run the commission.
Commission chief executive officer Peter Harris said the commissioners provided invaluable contacts and expertise in helping resolve issues affecting business, including helping allay health concerns threatening the unloading of ships and addressing problems affecting charities and not-for-profit organisations.
But Mr Harris came under sustained questioning over the commission's selection process and its handling of potential conflicts of interest.
Mr Harris, a former Productivity Commission chair, said that, given the extensive contacts and experience of the commissioners they almost "by definition" had potential conflicts of interest but the commission had processes in place to manage them.
But he rejected a call by Senator Rex Patrick for their interests to be publicly disclosed.
"These by definition involve people's private interests," Mr Harris said.
"I'm assuming that the Senate, some time in the past, has considered this and not decided to simply table private interests of individuals."
But Senator Patrick replied that "when people are conducting business paid for by the government and there is a personal conflict between that activity then absolutely that should be disclosed".
"In fact, one of the ways to resolve a conflict of interest is simply to disclose".