Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate has called out the treatment she was subjected to by the government and media following revelations that Australia Post had spent $19,950 on Cartier watches for four of its senior employees in 2018.
Appearing at a senate inquiry into the organisation on Tuesday, Holgate said she was “depicted as a prostitute” and “humiliated” by the media over the gifting of the watches and comments she had made in relation to the scandal.
“I have never seen any male public servant depicted in that way. So do I believe it’s partially a gender issue? You’re absolutely right I do,” she said in response to questions by Labor senator Kim Carr.
“But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do.”
In her opening statement to the inquiry, Holgate said she lost her job last year because she was “humiliated” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and “bullied” by AusPost chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo.
“Lucio unlawfully stood me down under public direction of the prime minister. This made my leadership at Australia Post untenable and seriously threatened my health,” she said.
“I was subjected to a biased investigation and intimidated with constant threats of further allegations and criticism. Throughout this time my health had deteriorated to the point where I could not find my voice to fight back.”
The former CEO revealed that the events left her “seriously ill” and “suicidal”, stating that she was “hung in Parliament” and “run over by a bus and reversed again” over the scandal.
Holgate repeated her allegations that Di Bartolomeo had lied to the inquiry, describing his evidence as “fabricated”.
“I believe he did so to save his own position from political peril and because it amounted he would never be called to account for his actions,” she said.
The inquiry heard that Holgate was “thrown under the bus” by Di Bartolomeo to “curry favour with his political masters”, namely communications minister Paul Fletcher.
Holgate also pointed out that all but one member of the AusPost board — Jan West — were political appointments, with ties to the coalition.
Order for Holgate to stand down came from PM
Holgate slammed the prime minister’s treatment of her in comparison with his dismissal of allegations made against his own ministers. She said Morrison has “members of parliament who have been accused of the most terrible atrocities to women” and brushed off those allegations — allowing those politicians to remain in their roles — and yet he ordered for her to stand down over the gifting of watches.
She said that while Morrison never spoke to her about the incident, AusPost director Tony Nutt had informed her that the direction for her to stand down had come from the prime minister.
Holgate maintained that the gifting of the watches fell within AusPost’s policies, and were audited. She said she could have given the recipients up to $150,000 each in bonuses instead, but “chose not to”.
“It was a moment of pride for them and those gifts — rewards — were a moment of celebration in the organisation and they were signed off by the CFO at the time,” she said.
Holgate supposedly resigned in November in the wake of the scandal. However, she told the inquiry her contract had never been resolved and she “signed no deed of release”, leading One Nation senator Pauline Hanson to suggest that Holgate is technically still CEO of Australia Post.
The organisation announced it had appointed Paul Graham to the role of CEO on Monday.
Di Bartolomeo had “silenced” Holgate from speaking out about a “secret” review conducted by Boston Consulting Group, the inquiry heard. Holgate said the recommendations of the review, if adopted, would have “ravaged jobs and services Australia Post offers”.