Australia Post executives spent big on events, entertainment and ‘reputation management’ during the height of the pandemic, while at the same time making staff redundant and lobbying for cuts to delivery services.
The revelations are the latest in a series of controversies that Australia Post has been embroiled in this year – despite the firm being one of the few winners out of the coronavirus pandemic thanks to the eCommerce boom.
Australia Post boss Christine Holgate’s pandemic spending spree, which includes a $3000-a-day Liberal party apparatchik-turned-spin doctor, was revealed in a response to questions on notice by Labor senator Kimberley Kitching.
Liberal senator Linda Reynolds detailed the extent of Australia Post executives’ pandemic spending in response to Senator Kitching’s questions this week.
From January 1 to July 2020, Ms Holgate authorised spending of more than $85,000 on events, entertainment, gifts and other expenses.
The lavish spending came at the same time as Ms Holgate was making the case to the public and politicians for pandemic delivery service cuts under the firm’s ‘Alternating Delivery Model’, and laying off scores of staff at corporate headquarters.
The chief executive’s corporate credit card expenditure for the entire 2019/20 financial year totalled $287,063.44, Senator Reynolds revealed.
Ms Holgate is the nation’s highest-paid civil servant, earning around $2.5 million last year.
The New Daily requested an interview with Ms Holgate, but the request was declined.
Liberal-linked spin doctor’s Aus Post, NCCC payday
Australia Post also paid more than $3000 a day to a former Liberal party communications adviser-turned-crisis manager with a history of representing disgraced companies, Senator Reynolds’ response showed.
Seemingly pre-empting backlash to its coronavirus service cuts, the firm engaged high-profile spin doctor Ross Thornton, The New Daily revealed in June.
The ‘strategic communications adviser’ once worked for notorious asbestos manufacturer James Hardie, and last year represented scandal-plagued financial services firm AMP during the banking royal commission.
Mr Thornton is a partner at the firm Domestique, which was paid a staggering $119,178.40 by Australia Post for just over a month’s work, from June 23 to July 31.
“Domestique provide communication planning and advice services, and issues management advice services. Domestique is not on a retainer and assists Australia Post on an ad-hoc basis,” an Australia Post spokesperson told The New Daily.
Mr Thornton is also co-founder of communications services firm Commtract.
Earlier this year, Commtract was awarded a lucrative contract by the Morrison government to provide communications services for its National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission (NCCC).
The firm was paid $42,000 for providing the NCCC with “creative, editorial, and design services” from May 6 to September 30.
The NCCC, which is headed by ex-Fortescue Metals Group boss Nev Power, has been under fire over a lack of transparency.
Just one of the six high-profile members of the government-appointed body have agreed to release a conflict-of-interest declaration.
Service cuts and pandemic profits
In April, Ms Holgate’s request for temporary regulatory relief was granted by the Morrison government, allowing Australia Post to slash delivery services in metropolitan areas, stretch intrastate delivery times, and scrap its priority mail service in response to what it said was a pandemic-induced decline in letter volumes.
The service cuts came despite the fact that Australia Post has been one of the few businesses to thrive during the pandemic, posting a record 7 per cent increase in revenue in the 2019-20 financial year.
Profits before tax rose 30 per cent to $53.6 million, the firm’s annual report revealed.
Despite its pandemic windfall, Australia Post has found itself at the centre of a a number of controversies this year.
These include Ms Holgate’s push for Pauline Hanson stubby holders to be delivered to locked-down Melburnians, a tussle with posties over job security, and criticism from business owners and customers over ongoing delivery delays.