Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate, who left the organisation after she gifted executives of the publicly owned firm expensive Cartier watches, has said she was “thrown under the bus” by management.
In a brutal written submission to a Senate inquiry into her departure from the Government organisation, Ms Holgate said the “most harrowing 10 days of my career” preceded her departure.
The furore began on October 22 when Ms Holgate told a Senate estimates hearing that four executives had received watches, which in total were worth $20,000, after wrapping up a lucrative deal.
That afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was scathing of the decision to award the four watches calling it “disgraceful and not on”.
He called on Ms Holgate to leave. “(She) has been instructed to stand aside. If she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go,” he told parliament.
She resigned on 2 November but she claims she was effectively pushed out.
Holgate: ‘I was humiliated’
In her submission to the Senate inquiry, Ms Holgate chiefly took aim at Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo. But she also said neither the PM nor Communications Minister Paul Fletcher acknowledged the circumstances surrounding the watch reward.
“I was humiliated in parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” she said in the 154 page document.
“The experience the chair of Australia Post and others put me through – which continues – should never be allowed to happen again, not just at Australia Post, but in any organisation, to any person, in any role.
“I believe I have been victimised and that my reputation and career ‘thrown under the bus’ without justification to save the reputations and careers of others.”
Ms Holgate said Mr Bartolomeo, “not only unlawfully stood me down, he lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their parliament about his actions”.
She said he had made repeated statements that she had agreed to stand down “when I had done no such thing”.
The former CEO said she was “abandoned to a media firestorm that he and others had created”.
She added that she was cut off from resources despite the organisation knowing she had sought mental health care and medication.
“I was treated like a criminal by my own chairman, but I had committed no crime.”
Ms Holgate wrote that the purchase of the four Cartier watches was a “legal” reward for the signing of the Bank@Post deal which helped Australia Post secure $220 million worth of funding via Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB to allow banking services to be delivered through post offices. It was a valuable extra service for many struggling smaller post offices.
“I had acted appropriately and within the authority given to me by the organisation.”
But Australia Post’s board would not back her up on the watches, a move she said was hypocritical.
“Every one of the current board members said they would not have supported (buying the watches), yet the same directors supported purchasing a pen for the previous retiring chair, as well as multimillion-dollar payouts to the previous CEO and not least the gifting of many more expensive rewards by him.
“These actions and false claims which have been made seriously damaged my professional reputation, and contributed to a significant decline in my health.”
Prime Minister “not properly briefed”
Ms Holgate said she only reluctantly offered her resignation on November 2 “after the most harrowing 10 days of my career; feeling absolutely humiliated and deserted by the Australia Post chair and as such my position had become untenable.”
Mr Morrison was mentioned in Ms Holgate’s submission, but was not the focus of her criticism.
She wrote that “at no point did either Minister Paul Fletcher or the Prime Minister acknowledge the watch reward occurred two years ago, for securing the largest investment into the Community Post Offices or that they had been approved by the previous chair.”
She added she had received several messages from “concerned supporters” who had suggested the “Prime Minister was probably not properly briefed” before he made his statements that she should leave her position.
Mr Morrison came in for criticism over Ms Holgate’s departure for a “double standard” after was revealed the Commonwealth had overpaid by ten times – totalling $27 million – for a patch of land west of Sydney which was on the site of a newly planned airport.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson called Mr Morrison’s comments “disgraceful” after it was revealed that $80 million in bonuses were dished out to executives of NBN, another Commonwealth corporation.