23 Oct Time running out for postal chief’s career
Lisa Visentin, Rob Harris – Sydney Morning Herald – Sunday 23 October 2020
The Australia Post CEO’s career appears to be over as the government investigates the $12,000 purchase of four Cartier watches given to senior staffers.
Christine Holgate’s controversial three-year reign at the helm of Australia Post appears over after she was forced to stand aside as the federal government ordered an investigation into the purchase of $12,000 worth of luxury watches for senior employees.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “so appalled and shocked” by the revelations, uncovered during a Senate estimates hearing, that the government immediately launched an investigation into the scandal.
Ms Holgate will stand aside during the four-week investigation, after Mr Morrison told Parliament yesterday that if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.
He said the investigation would extend to the conduct of the Australia Post board and their governance, as well as the actions of management and senior executives.
The dramatic action was triggered by Ms Holgate’s admission to a Senate estimates hearing earlier that her office had purchased Cartier watches worth $3000 each for four senior employees as a reward for brokering a deal with to set up banking services at Australia Post offices.
But she defended the purchases, claiming no taxpayers money had been used despite Australia Post being government-owned.
“I have not used taxpayers’ money. We are a commercial organisation,” Ms Holgate said.
“We do not receive government funding … It was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded.”
A government source said Mr Morrison was angry about the “taxpayers’ money” line from Ms Holgate, which was being referred to as an “11-word suicide note” in government ranks last night.
She said the watches were given to senior employees Gary Starr, Deanne Keetelaar, Anna Bennett and Greg Sutherland.
“There were a small number of senior people who put in an inordinate amount of work and they did receive a reward from the chair, myself, and on behalf of the board,” Ms Holgate said.
In a joint statement, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said their departments would lead the investigation with the support of an external law firm.
“The government expects all government entities, including government business enterprises, to act ethically and adhere to high standards regarding the expenditure of money,” the statement said.
Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo said management would “fully co-operate” with the investigation.
He confirmed Ms Holgate would stand aside, with chief financial officer Rodney Boys to act in the role.
The scandal is the latest in a string of controversies to plague Ms Holgate’s tenure as chief executive.
These include revelations she spent about $300,000 on corporate credit cards and chauffeurdriven cars over a 12-month period, and paid a reputation management firm $119,000 for just 38 days work between June and July.
Liberal senator James Paterson said Ms Holgate “should read the room and go now”.