Christine Holgate opens up on 'most harrowing ten days of my career'

Christine Holgate opens up on ‘most harrowing ten days of my career’

Scott Morrison proved he knows how to take swift and immediate action when he took on then Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate during Question Time back in October 2020. Now, Holgate has her say.
Christine Holgate

Australia Post’s first female (and now former) boss Christine Holgate’s written submission to a Senate Inquiry regarding her departure makes for difficult reading. 

It highlights, again, how quickly a woman can be thrown to the wolves when a controversy comes up. The public outrage her actions can inspire, leading even a Prime Minister to publicly declare his “disgust”, denouncing her actions as “not on”.

In Scott Morrison’s case, his move to announce an inquiry into Holgate’s apparent wrongdoing – signing off on a number of Cartier watches for executives totaling around $20,000 – was much swifter and complete than any kind of action we’ve seen from him regarding sexual misconduct within his own party. 

And it’s difficult to not consider other political parallels here, ignored by Morrison: including the ABC’s 7:30 report just last night revealing that Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack intervened on almost a third of the national Building Better Regions Fund projects (during a round of projects totaling $200 million in taxpayer funds). The Fund overwhelmingly favoured Coalition seats.

But Morrison was “shocked and appalled” by the watch purchases. He announced an investigation by the Finance and Communication departments, and demanded Holgate stand aside during the inquiry — even threatening her by saying that if she doesn’t stand aside “she can go”.  

“I was appalled and it is disgraceful and it’s not on,” he said during Question Time back in October.

“So, immediately, I spoke with ministers and from those discussions, decided that there had to be an independent investigation done by the Department, not by Australia Post, and that the Chief Executive should stand aside immediately”.

Immediately. He said.

Within an hour, he took action, so appalled and shocked he was. As, he said, would be any shareholder that might see that kind of “conduct, by a chief executive, the management or the board”

But there’s only one person who took the blame for the purchases: Christine Holgate.

And she paid a huge price. Humiliated, publicly. A lavish splash of cash that made for easy headlines, shared without much context regarding what the watches represented. An easy, memorable target — given so few women hold CEO positions. Her photograph dominated the newspapers. She was a conversation starter, did you see her actually wearing the watch?

Meanwhile, politicians wear their use of taxpayer dollars in more subtle ways — often via the very act of sitting in Parliament, having directed funding programs towards favoured seats that contribute to their election prospects.

Holgate has stayed silent on her departure, refusing interviews from major publications.

Rather, she’s saved her comments for this 154-page Senate submission, not only detailing her side of the story, but also sharing emails, photos of cards and letters. She describes having to seek mental health care and medication after being thrown into a “media storm” and cut off from resources and the support of her leadership team.

She writes that Morrison had been poorly briefed before he publicly attacked her in Question Time, and that she was “hung” for the simple act of rewarding executives for delivering on a landmark contract. 

She says she was disappointed by the lack of public support from other ministers she had worked with. And that her experiences, including alleged bullying by the Chair of Australia Post, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, should not be allowed to happen to anyone, in any organisation.

“The chair of Australia Post not only unlawfully stood me down, he lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their Parliament about his actions,” she said. “Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing. The evidence in this submission is irrefutable and I urge you to read it in full.”

Holgate also claims that she never agreed to stand aside. Rather, she’d offered to take two weeks of annual leave for the investigation to take place. She disputes the chair’s claims that she had agreed to stand down. 

As for the watches – costing around $5000 each – Holgate says the purchase was in line with Australia Post’s own remuneration policies and had been approved by the former chair. She wrote that she’d been told employees had received watches for great performances at Australia Post for many years, some having even received cars and paid holidays.

On paper, Holgate delivered in her role at Australia Post. There is even a major campaign by Australia Post franchisee owners (and others, including Pauline Hanson, pushing to get Holgate reinstated in the role.

Her base salary and bonus entitlements were significantly lower than the man she replaced, Ahmed Fahour. And although the watches were determined as being “inconsistent” with legislated obligations on the board, she was cleared of “dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse” of taxpayer funds in a report released by the government in January. 

Indeed, there was very little “shock” and “disgust” to be found in that report into the purchases, produced by the law firm, Maddocks.

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