The chairman of Australia Post should be sacked and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher investigated for their roles in the Christine Holgate saga, a Senate inquiry has ruled.
“Someone has to be held accountable,” committee chairwoman Sarah Hanson-Young said on Wednesday, in an inquiry into the highly publicised firing of Ms Holgate as Australia Post CEO.
She called for the firm’s chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, to “do the right thing and go”.
It was a scathing echo of Mr Morrison’s infamous Parliament speech, heard after the Cartier watch scandal was exposed, where he thundered Ms Holgate had been “instructed to stand aside and, if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.
Ms Holgate later accused Mr Morrison of having “humiliated” and “bullied” her, and called out members of the Australia Post board including Mr Di Bartolomeo.
A majority report of the Senate committee – including Labor, Greens and One Nation members – made 25 recommendations.
Labor and Greens members of the committee claimed the Cartier watch imbroglio had exposed “serious shortcomings” in Australia Post’s management, and claimed Mr Morrison had shown “a lack of respect for due process and procedural fairness”.
Senator Hanson-Young, of the Australian Greens, claimed the committee’s inquiry had found “political interference” in the Cartier affair and alleged that Australia Post’s independence had been “undermined”.
“A restructure of the board is needed to restore independence and ensure this essential public service acts in the public interest, at all times, regardless of the political whims of government,” she said.
Labor and Greens senators on the committee had criticised the fact the board contained numerous people connected to the Liberal Party.
One of the report’s key recommendations is that the board be restructured, to include federal MPs and senators as members.
Also questioned was the conduct of Senator Simon Birmingham and Mr Fletcher, the ‘shareholder ministers’ of Australia Post.
Much of the committee’s hearings focused on what interactions the pair had with Australia Post board members about Ms Holgate’s position.
The report called for the solicitor-general to investigate.
Senator Hanson-Young conceded Ms Holgate’s approval of the watches was “clearly unwise” and “didn’t pass the pub test”, but said the treatment of the former CEO had been unfair and an overreaction.
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson accused Mr Di Bartolomeo of a “spectacular failure of leadership”.
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles, speaking on the ABC, claimed the report was “damning” and said it was a “test of character” for Mr Morrison.
Mr Morrison has previously spoken of his “regret” at using “strong” language in question time towards Ms Holgate, but has stopped short of apologising.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Mr Fletcher shrugged off the recommendations.
“The government has consistently acknowledged that Ms Holgate was an effective chief executive of Australia Post and I congratulate her on her new role at Global Express,” he told The New Daily.
“The government’s response to the findings of the Senate environment and communications references committee is reflected in the detailed dissenting report.”
That dissenting report, from Liberal and Nationals members of the inquiry, claimed the process had become “highly politicised”.
They noted 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”.
In a statement, Mr Di Bartolomeo defended Australia Post as “one of the best-performing postal organisations in the world” and said the business was focusing on the future.
He called Ms Holgate “a very good chief executive” and said he “wishes her well for the future”.
“Australia Post remains engaged in a mediation process with Ms Holgate around the circumstances of her departure from the organisation,” he said.
Mr Di Bartolomeo did not respond to calls for him to resign.