The CEOs of airlines Qantas and Virgin – Alan Joyce and Paul Scurrah, respectively – are at the National Press Club today.

Yesterday we reported Joyce was the highest-paid chief executive in Australia, pocketing a staggering A$23,876,351 ($25.8 million) while everyday Australians battle stagnating wage growth and perpetually increasing cost of living pressures.

For reference, Joyce's realised pay was 270 times higher than the national average.

He was asked to justify that eye-watering number at the Press Club.


"My salary is determined by our shareholders. And the reason why – by the way, that information is now over two years' old, the salary has come down quite significantly since then," Joyce said.

"But that was because the Qantas share price went from A$1 to A$6. That's because our market capital went from just over A$2 billion to A$10b. And our shareholders did exceptionally well out of it.

"Because the shareholders want the CEO and the management to be incentivised to actually turn the company around. And it was, I think, the biggest turnaround in corporate Australian history. That's why that happened."

Joyce also addressed recent criticism from the government, which expressed some frustration about companies speaking out on social issues. Qantas, for example, campaigned strongly in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

"I think what the government was saying was that companies should be out there speaking on economic issues as well. My view is we have to do both. We're not going to pull back on what we say on social issues, because that's important to our employees, our customers, our shareholders," Joyce said.

"We clearly saw that there was a big business case – even though it was the morally right thing to do, supporting marriage equality – there was a great business case for it."