A Senate inquiry into Australia Post has recommended Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologise to former CEO Christine Holgate over his handling of the Cartier watch scandal, and current chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo resign.
Labor and Greens members of the Senate committee also recommended Communications Minister Paul Fletcher be referred to the auditor-general over his role in Ms Holgate’s sacking, claiming the Cartier watch imbroglio had exposed “serious shortcomings” in Australia Post’s management.
“Given the central role of the Prime Minister in this matter, the committee believes that the Prime Minister should apologise to Ms Holgate for his improper threat in question time that she should ‘stand aside or go’,” the report sets out.
“Indeed, this intervention by the Prime Minster suggests a lack of respect for due process and procedural fairness”.
The Greens and Labor members made 25 recommendations, including installing federal MPs and senators on the Australia Post board, and calling on the government to rule out privatising the postal service.
Ms Holgate was forced out of Australia Post in late 2020, after it was revealed she had authorised $20,000 being spent on expensive watches for staff who had helped broker a deal to let people do banking at post offices. She later accused Mr Morrison of having “humiliated” and “bullied” her, and also called out other members of the Australia Post board including Mr Di Bartolomeo.
The majority report of the inquiry claimed Mr Morrison had exhibited a “concerning double standard” in his conduct around Ms Holgate, “when contrasted with the standards of conduct and procedural principles applied to members of the cabinet”.
Ms Holgate also compared her treatment to how senior cabinet members had been treated after being accused of misconduct.
“The committee recommends that the chair of Australia Post resign in
acceptance of his responsibility for the organisation’s failings with respect to the Holgate matter,” the report states.
The majority also called for Mr Fletcher, one of the ‘shareholder’ ministers of Australia Post, be referred to the auditor-general over “his “instruction” to the Australia Post board that it stand Ms Holgate aside”. It asked he be investigated over potential “breaches of relevant legislation and policies of Australia Post”.
The report claimed there was “inconsistent treatment of public officials by this government”, contrasting Ms Holgate’s dismissal over $20,000 in watches to the “no action taken against the responsible public servants involved in the purchase of the ‘Leppington Triangle’ for $30 million of public funds, 10 times more than the land’s market value”.
Mr Morrison has previously spoken of his “regret” at using “strong” language in question time towards Ms Holgate, but has stopped short of apologising.
A dissenting report from Liberal and Nationals members of the inquiry claimed the process had become “highly politicised”. They noted that Labor leader Anthony Albanese, too, had initially claimed Ms Holgate’s position was “untenable”, including in an interview with The New Daily.
“It appears that the opportunity to criticise the government, led to
a change in rhetoric,” the Coalition members wrote in their report.
“This has had an impact on many of the recommendations in the majority report and the events leading up to and during the inquiry became a significant distraction to the valuable work of Australia Post.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Coalition members opposed a recommendation that Mr Morrison apologise and said they “contested” the claim that Ms Holgate was denied procedural fairness. In response to the majority recommendation that Mr di Bartolomeo resign, government members said that he “sought to work in
a constructive manner with Ms Holgate”.
One Nation senator Pauline Hanson, who supplied extra comments to the report, accused Mr di Bartolomeo of a “spectacular failure of leadership”.
“Mr di Bartolomeo bowed to his political masters, the Prime Minister and
shareholder ministers Fletcher and Birmingham, in the way he railroaded Ms Holgate with complete indifference for any duty of care she was owed,” Senator Hanson wrote.
“That Ms Holgate suffered serious health consequences because of her treatment at the hands of the board, ministers, and media, evidences the ineffective approach and complete failure of the duty of care she was owed by the board and the organisation.”
-more to come