Scott Morrison has slammed former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate’s claim “gender” was an issue in her departure, as the newspaper that published a cartoon she says depicted her as “a prostitute” dismissed suggestions it implied she was a sex worker.
In his first public comments over the furore, the Prime Minister has stopped short of apologising to her but conceded his language was “strong”.
“That day in Parliament was quite a heated day and the Labor Party was calling for her resignation,’’ the Prime Minister said.
“I recall, and Parliament can get pretty willing, and I gave a very strong response. I see that has caused some very strong reaction from Christine and hurt her deeply. That was not my intention, and so I regret that, but at the same time, the issue here was how taxpayer funds were being used. I have to stand up for those standards and did.
“It was not my intention for me to upset or offend Ms Holgate.”
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The Prime Minister said he did not accept there were gender issues at play here at all.
“No. I don’t accept that. This is about the issues of taxpayers money,” he said.
“And I don’t accept there were any gender-related issues here at all.
“My language that day was very strong.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Financial Review has hit back at claims a cartoon featuring Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate implied she was a sex worker turning tricks for Mr Morrison.
The illustration was published by The Australian Financial Review on Saturday, October 24, by the paper’s award-winning cartoonist David Rowe during the period the former CEO says she was left “suicidal” by the media firestorm.
It depicts Ms Holgate leaving a room wearing a short dress and an Australia Post bangle with smeared red lipstick.
“As the morning progressed, the requests and commentary in the media increased. There
was a cartoon of me depicting me as a prostitute in the Australia Financial Review,’’ she writes in her submission to Parliament.
“I was deeply offended and extremely distressed and shared this with Australia Post. The organisation took no action to address the misleading statements or to defend me in any way yet they were fully aware of the extent of degrading reporting.”
But the newspaper’s editor, Michael Stutchbury, told news.com.au Ms Holgate was “completely wrong” to believe it implied she was a whore.
“Chistine Holgate has been treated disgracefully by the Labor Party and Scott Morrison and the government,’’ he said.
“But in no way has David Rowe portrayed her as a prostitute in that cartoon,’’ he said.
“She’s just completely wrong on that. If you try and decode the cartoon it’s really a critique of Morrison with sports rorts, Leppington Triangle, ICAC, it’s focused on him.
“She’s walking out the door. There is none of the symbolism that you might have of a prostitute client image.”
The cartoon includes the words “Cartier – When it’s Time to Go” and features the Prime Minister looking bored but wearing multiple watches with a caption that includes “also available in Sports Rort Diver. One of the ticking watches has the words: Federal ICAC.
“She dresses well, if you like, there’s a bit of Australia Post red,’’ Mr Stuchbury said.
“Some of her minders raised it. I didn’t speak to anyone personally but I think we went back to them and said, “No. That’s not the case.”
The cartoonist Dave Rowe said depicting women as prostitutes was not part of his “cartoon vocabulary.”
“Not sure how the cartoon was taken as anything other than a criticism of Morrison,” Mr Rowe told news.com.au.
“Like most, I was as appalled at Morrison’s position on the 22nd and drew the cartoon in response to that. Not everyone likes a caricature, but drawing a female public figure as a prostitute has never been part of my cartoon vocabulary and I’m really sad to think this is giving her additional unnecessary distress.”
Despite Ms Holgate’s claim a man would not be depicted in such a sexual manner, the cartoonist David Rowe is renowned for painting politicians and business leaders semi-clad and in bed with each other.
Nevertheless it’s clear she found the cartoon highly distressing
“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 for making those comments, humiliated,’’ she said.
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“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 is now demanding a personal apology from the Prime Minister for his outburst in question time where he said she had been instructed to stand aside and if she refused to do so “she can go.”
“I think it is one of the worst acts of bullying I’ve ever witnessed and even now I have to take myself out of myself to watch it,’’ she said.
“It is an utter disgrace.”
The former CEO said she was also subject to a biased workplace investigation to intimidate her into resigning.
“The feedback was, there was a finding of no deliberate dishonesty, fraud or any wrongdoing,’’ she noted.
“That is disgraceful behaviour, and they did nothing to defend my reputation. I can’t see one act where that chairman genuinely tried to help and support me.
“I was suicidal. They knew that. Yet they carried on allowing the discrediting of me to continue.”
Ms Holgate is not ruling out legal action against the Morrison Government.
“Sadly it’s not settled. So maybe if the Prime Minister is watching, he could give me a call and I would love an apology, but he could help me resolve my contract,’’ she said.
Asked by 7.30 host Laura Tingle last night if she would pursue legal action against Australia Post and others, she would not rule it out.
“Possibly,’’ she said.
“They harassed me and they thought they’d got away with it and if it wasn’t for Angela Cramp and all her community post offices, who no matter when I said ‘go away’, they carried on campaigning, and for the unions, by the way who supported her, I don’t think we’d have this inquiry.
So I thought it was only right that I stood up. What kind of leader would I be if I would tolerate bullying because that would mean they were entitled to do it to others.”