The pay of Australia's top listed company executives has hit a record high with the average rising 12 per cent in the past year to A$4.36m ($4.78m).

An annual survey by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) found pay for the bosses of ASX100 companies hit the highest level in 2017 since it began doing the research 17 years ago.

The research found the rise was mainly driven by bonus pay, with base pay showing little growth, while bonus payments were up 18 per cent.

Bonus pay was awarded to 74 out of 80 chief executives who were eligible for it, with nearly one in three awarded at least 80 per cent of their maximum bonus.

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Louise Davidson, ACSI chief executive, said board decisions to pay large bonuses just for hitting budget targets, rather than exceptional performance, was tone deaf in an environment where average wage growth was weak and public trust in Australian businesses was at a low ebb.

"This may be a sign that boards have lost sight of the link between a company's social licence and the expectations of communities and investors," she said.

"It's a sad state of affairs when bonuses have become such a sure thing."

Davidson said Australia may need legislative intervention to give shareholders a greater say if the issue was not addressed by companies voluntarily.

"In light of these results, we will be looking closely at bonus outcomes in the upcoming reporting season.

"If they're not transparent and reflective of performance, we will be recommending that our members vote against those remuneration reports."

The report found the highest paid CEO for the ASX200 was the Domino's Pizza chief executive Don Meij who received realised pay of A$36,837,702 ($40.4m).

Shopping centre magnates Westfield's joint CEOs Peter and Steven Lowy were the second highest at A$25.9m ($28.4m) followed by financial firm Macquarie Group boss Nicholas Moore who had realised pay of A$25.2m ($27.6m).

The report authors said there were too few female CEOs for it to analyse gender pay equality in the survey. The ASX100 had four female chief executives last year while the ASX100-200 had a further five.

It found there were more CEOs called Andrew in the ASX100 than women.