Scott Morrison insists Christine Holgate made the decision to leave Australia Post herself despite publicly declaring “she can go” if she refused to resign.
Ms Holgate left her role as Australia Post chief executive in November following revelations senior executives were gifted expensive Cartier watches.
But in a fiery written submission to a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, Ms Holgate alleged she was “thrown under the bus” by management and never agreed to stand aside.
Mr Morrison labelled the gifts “disgraceful” in comments to parliament in October, saying Ms Holgate had been “instructed to stand aside, and if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.
But the Prime Minister on Wednesday insisted she left the role of her own volition.
“Ms Holgate decided to leave Australia Post. That’s just a matter of record, and these issues now are between Ms Holgate and Australia Post,” he said.
In January, the government released the findings of a report into the saga that found the gifts were “inconsistent” with Australia Post’s obligations.
But it cleared Ms Holgate of deliberately misleading or misusing taxpayer funds.
Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland on Wednesday said the Prime Minister’s intervention had “effectively sacked” Ms Holgate.
“Everybody knows that if Scott Morrison and Paul Fletcher did not want Ms Holgate gone, the chairman and board would have acted differently,” she said.
Greens senator and chair of the inquiry Sarah Hanson-Young said Ms Holgate’s departure was a sign of a “boys club” in the government that refused to investigate wrongdoing within its own ranks.
“The Morrison government has a track record of throwing women under the bus to save their own necks in a crisis while going to extraordinary lengths to protect the blokes in the boys club,” she said.
“When it comes to serious allegations of misconduct against his male cabinet members his strategy is deflect and defend.”
Mr Morrison stressed the “predominance of (Ms Holgate’s) comments” were directed at Australia Post management.
Ms Holgate claimed she was “treated like a criminal” by Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo and alleged she was hounded out of the role.
“The chair of Australia Post not only unlawfully stood me down, he lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their parliament about his actions,” she said in her submission.
“Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.
“The evidence in this submission is irrefutable, and I urge you to read it in full.”
She described the period as the “most harrowing 10 days of her career” and had “considerable concerns” over her treatment.
“I feel I have been bullied and humiliated by the chair, forced to stand down from a role I loved and by evidence was successful in,” she claimed.
Earlier on Wednesday, government frontbencher Anne Ruston said her understanding was Ms Holgate had declined to reapply for her position.
“Any of us that take out roles in public life have an additional level of scrutiny, and when it plays out in the media, it can be extremely difficult,” she told ABC radio.