Christine Holgate has lashed Scott Morrison for keeping men accused of “terrible atrocities” against women in his party, despite “humiliating” her before she was bullied out of Australia Post.
Ms Holgate said she had “done no wrong” when appearing before a senate inquiry into her controversial departure on Tuesday, where she claimed the saga surrounding her departure had seriously damaged her health and left her suicidal.
She quit as Australia Post chief executive officer in October after revelations senior executives had been given expensive Cartier watches, but has since been cleared of misleading or misusing taxpayer funds.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison in October declared the watches “disgraceful” and said Ms Holgate had been instructed to stand aside.
Ms Holgate said she did not know why the Prime Minister made that intervention, but claimed it made her position untenable.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
She said the Prime Minister had not spoken to her personally since the story broke.
Mr Morrison has refused to remove Liberal MP Andrew Laming from the Coalition party-room despite allegations of bullying and harassing women.
Former attorney-general Christian Porter also remained in the cabinet despite an historical rape allegation levelled at him. Mr Porter has strongly denied the allegation.
Ms Holgate lashed the Prime Minister for what she framed as a hypocrisy.
“He has people … members of parliament who have been accused of the most terrible atrocities to women, proven with one of them, and they’re allowed to stand and still remain in their jobs and represent our country,” she said.
“After four hours of a Senate process, I may have made a wrong comment when it would be perfectly okay to abuse women. That would be acceptable.”
Ms Holgate said she gave the watches to executives who had made a huge contribution to Australia Post, but was treated differently based on her gender.
“I’ve never seen a media article comment about a male politician’s watch and yet I was depicted as a prostitute,” she said.
“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.
“But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do.”
Ms Holgate said she reached out to Liberal senate leader Simon Birmingham, who she knew outside of his role in politics.
“I wrote to him and said: surely now that you’re Finance Minister … and head of the Senate, you will help me get a resolution and stop what’s happening to me,” she said.
“It was rambling, and it was rambling because I was seriously ill. I was on Diazepam, I was suicidal.”
She said Mr Birmingham offered to organise a meeting which never eventuated.
“I still hadn’t heard anything back (by December), which felt like a lifetime when you’re going through hell,” she said.
“I texted Simon Birmingham on his private mobile and asked him. I heard nothing back.”
Senator Birmingham has since disputed these claims, with a spokesman telling The Advertiser that Senator Birmingham and Ms Holgate had a telephone conversation on Wednesday, November 25.
Senator Birmingham told Parliament on February 22 that he had “a very high regard for Ms Holgate”, having worked with her when he held the Trade portfolio, and recognised the work she did at Australia Post.
“I wish Ms Holgate well in relation to her future endeavours,” he said at the time.
Ms Holgate also launched a staunch defence of her record as CEO, saying the company had “overachieved its targets”.
“I do not want what happened to me to happen to any individual ever again in any workplace. I have only ever wanted what was best for Australia Post and its people,” she said.
“I have passionately wanted to help the organisation grow and to support the communities of Australia to thrive.”
Ms Holgate accused Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo of “producing lies” over her departure, insisting she never agreed to resign.
“My lawyers and I have asked continuously for evidence of me standing down. There has been none,” she said.
“The simple truth is I was bullied out of my job. I was humiliated and driven to despair.
“Not just hung, run over by a bus and reversed (over) again.”
She demanded Mr Di Bartolomeo, who will appear just hours after Ms Holgate, stand down from his post “not because of me (but) because he’s lied to you all”.
“You cannot have a chair, who misleads the executive misleads ministers and misleads the board. We must have a chair that both the ministers, the executives, and the people of Australia can trust,” she said.
The former CEO said she was subjected to a “biased” investigation and intimidated with threats of further allegations.
But her departure was met with a groundswell of support from the company’s workers, Ms Holgate said.
“I have had thousands and thousands of letters from our people saying what has happened to me was wrong. If someone was in Bourke Street today I think you’ll find the floors full of people wearing white jackets,” she said.
The committee also heard the gifts were not unusual in the context of Australia Post, including an example of “5-star luxury jaunts” to the 2012 Olympics.
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie described her departure as a “tragedy”, agreeing the former CEO had done an “amazing job” for her regional constituents.
“She not only ensured the financial sustainability (of thousands of businesses), but also delivered $70 million to the taxpayer as well, which really turned Australia Post around,” she told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“I think it’s quite a tragedy that she’s no longer the CEO.”
But Ms McKenzie was hesitant to criticise Mr Morrison, who has claimed Ms Holgate quit of her own volition.
“Was that wrong to do, given there was no dishonesty here?” host Fran Kelly asked.
Ms McKenzie, who is on the committee, said those “sorts of questions” would be explored during proceedings.
“But what do you think?” Kelly asked.
“I think it’s important that we allow Ms Holgate to put her side of the story on the public record, so that everyone can be availed of the facts,” Ms McKenzie replied.
The Nationals senator insisted Ms Holgate’s removal was a decision taken by the Australia Post board.
“(But) it would be a brave board that just didn’t do anything when the Prime Minister says ‘if she doesn’t stand aside, she can go’,” Kelly said.
“Her submission raises some significant questions around the whole process and that’s what is so good about having a public hearing today,” Ms McKenzie replied.