Australia Post CEO and Managing Director, Christine Holgate has stood aside after giving evidence at Senate Estimates this week. The leader says she forgot how four Cartier watches worth a cool $12,000 had been purchased on her account and gifted to senior employees.
Breaking late yesterday afternoon, the news sent politics into overdrive. Prime Minister Scott Morrison wasted no time in launching a scathing attack on Holgate, saying he was disgusted by the abuse of taxpayers’ money.
“I was appalled and it is disgraceful and it’s not on,” he said in Question Time.
“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.
“That report will come back to me and my members of my Cabinet and if there are issues to be addressed with board members, then they will be addressed then,” he said.
“This all happened within an hour, so appalled and shocked was I by that behaviour, as any shareholder would in a company raise their outrage if they had seen that conduct, by a chief executive, the management or the board, they would insist rightly on the same thing.
“We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people, is that the action was immediate, and if the Chief Executive wished to stand aside, she has been instructed to stand aside, if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go.”
Liberal Senator James Paterson backed the Prime Minister up, calling for Holgate to “read the room and go now.”
Of course, if you were an outsider to Australian politics, and just walked in yesterday to observe, you’d be impressed with the government’s hard line on alleged corruption. Such an emphatic response from our principled PM!
But the reality is, most of us have watched these incidents play out in government for years. We know that Morrison’s hard line today could easily morph into a gentle or blind one tomorrow, provided there’s enough political gain in it for him. His hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Only last week for instance, we watched Morrison come out in fierce defence of NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. The PM pledged his “absolute support” after revelations of the Premier’s ‘close and personal’ relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire came to light.
The evidence exposed at ICAC was hugely contentious. Even the fiercest supporters of Berejiklian would find it hard to stomach she had zero idea of what was going on under her nose. The audio of her fervently imploring Maguire not to share details of his slippery schemes stood out for what it was.
But Morrison had a different perspective. He said Berejiklian had shown “a lot of courage”, “a lot of humility” and was a person of “tremendous integrity”. “We’re all human,” he shrugged.
The Prime Minister would have us believe that Berejiklian’s leadership of a Liberal government had nothing to do with his fierce endorsements. A straight shooter, he just calls it how he sees it.
Except that it’s not just excusing misconduct that Morrison is prone to– he’s also a likely perpetrator.
Earlier this year, Morrison dodged evidence from the Australian National Audit Office which revealed lobbying behind the scenes for $100m of sports grants– now known as the ‘sports rorts scandal’. Morrison’s office had asked then-Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie to seek prime ministerial “authority” for intended recipients and to coordinate the announcement with Coalition campaign headquarters.
When probed whether he had misled the House of Representatives on the issue, Morrison accused the Canberra Press Gallery of going “back to politics as usual”. Smiling benignly, he left the real question unanswered.
And, at a broader level, Morrison delayed establishing a national corruption watchdog, despite receiving a draft bill more than nine months ago.
“I was not going to have one public servant diverted from the task of … dealing with this pandemic,” he told parliament on Wednesday.
Given this background, it’s hard to keep a straight face when Morrison lambasts Christine Holgate for a possible discrepancy of a few thousand dollars. No one is arguing that this conduct is acceptable. We should expect more where taxpayer funds are concerned and an investigation is the right way forward.
But Morrison is a political opportunist, a marketing machine, who will work this narrative into one that wipes his own accountability.
The truth however? The fish rots from the head. And in the case of Australia Post, that’s not Christine Holgate. It’s our Prime Minister.