Moral call

THE One.Tel debacle has led to unprecedented calls to end corporate greed, even from politicians who themselves are being examined for their own indulgent superannuation system.

Perhaps it is time to examine some facts about the situation rather than just submit to mob justice and hysteria.

Whether Jodee Rich and Brad Keeling deserved their $14 million bonus is questionable, but demanding they pay it back hardly solves the real issue of how such a ridiculous amount of money was handed over in the first place – apparently for nothing.

The process of this transaction and its culmination last year was the result of unusual hype in the market about the value of technology and the business plans of companies seeking to exploit new developments in the Internet and telecommunications fields.

My understanding is the Rich/Keeling payout was based on performance targets related to market capitalisation which, in turn, was based on subscriber growth and the value placed on subscribers themselves.

This deal was hatched at a time when people expected technology to deliver more. There was a race to get there first or risk being left out.

It was, no doubt, put together by directors, investment bankers and other experts who believed they were doing the right thing – attempting to reward people for achieving targets which are perceived to be in everyone’s best interests.

They obviously got it wrong.

Just who holds moral high ground now is difficult to say.

The executives who produced a flawed business plan and successfully sold it? The “naïve” investors who were happy to accept talk of global riches? The analysts who believed valuations placed on new technology adoption? Or the media who reported everything but failed to pass a really critical eye over the numbers as only a disinterested observer can?

Like them or not, the One.Tel twins may just be in the running for the Tall Poppy of the Year award.

Test case, bud

THE major test case in the Federal Court between the Australian Taxation Office and promoter Budplan is a crucial test, not only of an estimated $500 million worth of deductions challenged by the authorities, but also of the manner in which the ATO has conducted itself over the matter.

A loss by Budplan would vindicate the tax office, to some extent, over what has been perceived as heavy treatment of taxpayers.

A win for Budplan would put the ATO seriously on the back foot, after playing a game of hardball against up to 30,000 people.

It is perhaps no wonder that tax officials are looking for a bit of advice on how to give themselves a makeover after recent bad press.

But the current drama has come from people’s mistaken belief that if they got a deduction in a previous year then it must be alright, combined with poor surveillance by the ATO followed by a belated effort to catch those it thought were ripping off the system.

All the corporate imagery in the world won’t avert such situations.

I still think it will be a while before tax officials can feel comfortable telling strangers they meet at parties what they do for a crust.

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