Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Adios Amigo

Apparently our erstwhile American friend Sol Trujillo has made remarks in an interview on the BBC that he believes Australia is racist, and that arriving here was like “stepping back in time”. When asked if there is racism in Australia, he replied that it was “evident with me personally, but more importantly with others.” The remarks have been met with disbelief in Australia, especially in the light that Mr. Trujillo has profited immensely from his time as CEO of Telstra. In fact he is probably about the only one who has.

While Mr. Trujillo walked away a year before the end of his appointed term, and even then almost two months before his nominated retirement date, he has enjoyed a salary package that reached $13.4 million in his final year, along with a reported $3 million termination payment, even though he decided to quit before completing his contract. As a temporary resident he was not required to pay tax on his offshore investments, and also benefited from Telstra assisting him with relocation and health insurance expenses, despite being more than capable of paying his own way.

At the same time, Telstra shareholders have seen their shares fall in value from over $5 per share when Mr. Trujillo arrived to around $3.10 today. Employee numbers have been cut, while the company refused to even talk to the union about pay and conditions. Customers continue to complain about services, and the Federal Government got so fed up with the aggressive tactics of Mr. Trujillo and his colleagues that they decided to cut Telstra out of the picture altogether when they announced the National Broadband Network. If there is anyone who has profited from Mr. Trujillo’s tenure at Telstra, other Mr. Trujillo himself, it is difficult to find them.

It’s true that while he was here, some Australians made jokes about the “Three Amigos”, and referred to a “Mexican Standoff” when Telstra and the Government were at each others throats. But such phrases are hardly racist. They simply reflect a very Australian sense of humour which calls a spade a bloody shovel, and if you don’t like it or take offence, then you must be remarkably precious. There is a world of difference between making light of ethnic differences and genuine vilification. Yes, there are some racist Australians, just as there are in the United States and any other country you may care to name, but as Victorian Premier John Brumby has pointed out, Australia is the multi-cultural capital of the world and tolerance here is the rule, not the exception.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that the original “Three Amigos”, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short, are all American anyway, not Mexican. The point of the movie was that these three Americans came into town to try to take advantage of the unsophisticated locals. In that context, it is a remarkably accurate description of Mr. Trujillo, the American executive and his colleagues, who came to the antipodes with an arrogance matched only by their avarice. Who’s the bigot now that it seems we’ve all been treated like a bunch of backwater hicks? But there was nothing wrong with the colour of our money, was there!

Sol Trujillo did nothing to enrich Australia, only to enrich himself at our expense. Now that he has safely departed our shores he now wants to add insult to injury by claiming to have been mistreated. While he might find some comfort in his tens of millions of dollars, the only comfort for Telstra shareholders, customers and workers is that he seems to have burned his bridges and is most unlikely to return.

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