You underestimate women at your peril, and the men involved in Christine Holgate’s dismissal from Australia Post clearly underestimated just how powerful a response to their actions Holgate would and could deliver.
They underestimated how forensically she’d prepare evidence regarding her claim that she never agreed to stand down from the role. And they underestimated how she’d use the media interest in her story to call out example after example of the hypocrisy of Prime minister Scott Morrison for taking her on over the purchase of four watches for executives.
First, Holgate broke her silence after being sacked on the floor of parliament late last year, by delivering a powerful written statement to Senate Estimate last week.
And speaking in Parliament this morning, she went much further. Delivering a calm and measured responses to various lines of questioning regarding the purchase of those watches, her plans for the future of Australia Post and whether she believed the treatment she received may have been different if she were a man.
She described how she was “bullied out of my job”, that she was unlawfully stood down, and spoke of atrocities against women and taxpayer spending among parliamentarians to highlight the hypocrisy of how she was treated. At one point, she noted she experienced a period of being “suicidal”.
She did so with a number of supportive questions from an unlikely alliance of cross-party women, including Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator Pauline Hanson and Senator Bridget McKenzie.
“I was bullied out of my job. I was humiliated and driven to despair. I was thrown under the bus of the chairman of Australia Post, to curry favour with his political masters. But I’m still here and I’m stronger for surviving it.”
Composed and measured the entire time, Holgate urged that those involved in her dismissal be “held to account”.
“I do not want what happened to me to happen to any individual ever again in any workplace,” she said.
“Yet I lost my job, a job that I loved, because I was humiliated by our prime minister for committing no offence and then bullied by my chairman who unlawfully stood me down under public direction of the prime minister. This made my leadership at Australia Post untenable and seriously threatened my health.
“I have done no wrong. Their bullying of me was far from over. I was subjected to a biased investigation and intimidated with constant threats of further allegations and criticism.”
She said she’s been depicted in ways that she has not seen applied to male counterparts.
“I think it would be fair to say I’ve never seen a media article comment about a male politician’s watch, and yet I was depicted as a prostitute, humiliated. I have never seen any male public servant depicted that way.
“So do I believe it’s particularly a gender issue? You’re absolutely right I do.
“But do I believe the real problem here is bullying, harassment and abuse of power, I absolutely do.”
She noted recent reports about corruption in Parliament, that were aired around the same time that she was questioned about the four watches she’d purchased back on November 9.
“The prime mininster was asked about the behaviour of two of his ministers… his response was ‘that was two years ago'”.
“I bought four watches, two years ago.”
“He has people in his Cabinet, members of parliament, who have been accused of the most terrible atrocities against women — proven with one of them, and they are allowed to stand and represent their jobs. I was forced to stand down.”
Holgate also noted the numerous media reports out this week, noting the millions of dollars spent on parliamentarians taking flights.
Holgate told Senator Sarah Hanson Young that she believed she deserved the opportunity for either the mininster or the prime mininster to speak with her, but neither did. She said that Morrison never spoke to her.
She said she did not know why the Prime Minister took the action that he did, demanding that she step aside on the floor of parliament.
“I’m putting to you today, I was unlawfully stood down and my contract got repudiated. I’ve only ever asked for respect. And I have never been allowed it. So, maybe I answer that slightly differently. I don’t know why the Prime Minister did what he did. But I was unlawfully stood down, I believe, because he instructed it to be so.”
Holgate also accused Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolemeo of lying, saying that he fabricated an agreement between the two of them that Holgate had agreed to step down.
“Those gifts, rewards, were given during a moment of celebration in the organisation. They were not in any breach of any policy,” she said.
No Australia Post employees or representatives raised concerns about the gifts. “I could have given – awarded those four people up to $150,000 each as a bonus. I chose not to. I chose to give them a watch,” she said.
These men also failed to understand Holgate’s love for her job and desire to build a bigger and better Australia Post. Indeed, Holgate still has “CEO of Australia Post” on her LinkedIn profile.
So would she return? Well the chair would have to leave. And, Holgate has now been officially replaced by a man. Scott Morrison named Holgate’s successor within 24 hours of Holgate making this parliamentary appearance, with Paul Graham appointed.
“I love Australia Post, there is no day that I don’t admire and respect its people. But I cannot work for a chair that lies in the Senate and has no integrity. The chair would have to go.”