The Australia Post board will not apologise to its former CEO Christine Holgate over her treatment following the Cartier watch scandal, chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo says.
Di Bartolomeo and Holgate both appeared before a senate inquiry into the organisation on Tuesday, where they gave conflicting statements regarding the circumstances surround Holgate’s departure from the organisation last year.
Holgate told the inquiry that she was unlawfully stood down from her role at the request of the prime minister, following revelations that AusPost had spent $19,950 on watches for four of its senior employees in 2018.
Fronting the inquiry after Holgate, Di Bartolomeo said the former CEO “wasn’t stood down”, arguing that he had wanted her to “stand aside for four weeks for the duration of the investigation” into the watch purchases.
He said he has never spoken to the prime minister, and revealed that communications minister Paul Fletcher had asked the board to stand Holgate aside “to support the investigation” after speaking with his shareholder minister, then finance minister Mathias Cormann.
“He wanted us to look at standing Christine down. I queried whether that was what he really wanted. He said, ‘Look, I am going to come back to you’. We had the later discussion where that was all reaffirmed,” Di Bartolomeo said of his conversation with Fletcher.
The chair repeated his previous assertion that he would have “vetoed the purchase of the watches” if he had been chair at the time. He said that while Holgate had not breached any policies, the purchase of the watches was “inconsistent with both obligations imposed by the act and public expectations”.
Holgate told the inquiry that the media had depicted her as a “prostitute” following the scandal, noting that she has “never seen any male public servant depicted in that way”. Taking aim at Di Bartolomeo in particular, she said the real issue behind her treatment came down to “bullying and harassment and abuse of power”.
Di Bartolomeo said that while the “environment” following the revelations about the watches had “created a set of circumstances that made her job and her life very difficult”, the board did not owe Holgate an apology over how she was treated.
“Christine Holgate has been treated abysmally, but I believe the board and management did the right things by her,” he said.
In rejection of Holgate’s claim that his evidence was “fabricated”, Di Bartolomeo said he has “never lied to Senate Estimates”, and had corrected statements that were not “100% correct”. He said he would not resign from his position — which Holgate has called for — as it would “further hinder the organisation going forward”.
Holgate, who resigned in November, has alleged that someone from the board had leaked her offer of resignation letter to Sky News before she had even received a response to the letter.
Di Bartolomeo said the board “did not leak any information to Sky News or anyone else”, claiming that those who knew of the letter were “tied up” at the time.
Holgate told the inquiry her contract has never been resolved and she “signed no deed of release”. Following Tuesday’s hearing, she told ABC’s 7.30 that she was considering legal action against AusPost regarding the contract.
The former CEO told the inquiry that Di Bartolomeo had prevented her from speaking out about a “secret” review conducted by Boston Consulting Group for AusPost. Holgate said she had opposed the proposals put forward by the BCG report, as they would have “ravaged jobs and services Australia Post offers”. Labor senator Kim Carr described the review as “a blueprint for privatisation”.
Asked by Liberal senator Sarah Henderson whether there were plans to privatise more of AusPost’s services, Di Bartolomeo said “none whatsoever”.