The appointment of a new Australia Post CEO on the eve of a Senate hearing examining Christine Holgate’s resignation has been slammed as “shameful”.
On Monday, the postal service announced Woolworths supply chain boss Paul Graham as the company’s new chief executive following a “global search” for suitable candidates.
But the timing of the announcement – just 24 hours before Ms Holgate was due to give evidence at a Senate hearing – has sparked major backlash.
The Greens communications spokesperson and chair of the Senate inquiry, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the timing was “inappropriate”.
“It’s shameful that the Morrison government is rushing to appoint a new CEO the day before Christine Holgate has the opportunity to air her allegations that she was ‘thrown under the bus’ and ‘humiliated’ in a manner not replicated by the Morrison government when it comes to the alleged misconduct of men in its ranks,” she said.
“While the matter of the termination of Ms Holgate’s employment is before a Senate inquiry, the appointment of a new CEO is inappropriate and seeks to undermine the Senate inquiry process.”
Senator Hanson-Young’s criticisms were echoed elsewhere.
And Ms Holgate isn’t going without a fight.
She maintains she was “treated like a criminal” and forced out of the company by chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo, after it was revealed she spent $20,000 of taxpayer funds on four Cartier watches in 2018 as a reward for executives who secured deals with three big banks.
In a lengthy submission to the Senate inquiry on March 19, Ms Holgate said she was “humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down”.
Before she stood down, Ms Holgate was the highest-paid public servant in the country, earning more than $2.5 million in pay and bonuses in the 2018-2019 financial year.
Ms Holgate’s powerful supporters
On Monday, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson slammed the timing of his appointment as a deliberate move by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to undermine the inquiry.
“Scott Morrison is attempting to deliberately destabilise witnesses ahead of tomorrow’s Senate inquiry,” Senator Hanson said.
“It demonstrates unmistakeable contempt of the process and this is proving typical of the Prime Minister’s leadership style.”
Senator Hanson and Ms Holgate share a perplexing friendship.
Last year, in her role as Australia Post CEO, Ms Holgate came under fire for intervening on Senator Hanson’s behalf when the City of Melbourne refused to deliver One Nation stubby holders to locked-down public housing tower residents.
The stubby holders, emblazoned with Senator Hanson’s face and the slogan “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking”, along with a hand-written note saying “No hard feelings”, were delivered just days after she described the residents as “alcoholics and drug addicts” on Channel Nine’s Today.
Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the inquiry-eve timing of the announcement showed the Prime Minister and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher had “lost their collective marbles”.
Calls to reinstate Ms Holgate are supported by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, as well as John Hewson, who led the Liberal Party in its 1993 election loss against Paul Keating.
In a 15-page submission to the Senate, the union representing postal workers warned Ms Holgate’s departure from Australia Post set a “dangerous precedent” for all workers at the government-owned enterprise, given the board stood her down as a “direct result of untested allegations”.
The Senate inquiry, chaired by Senator Hanson-Young, will explore how the $20,000 spent on watches compares with the bonuses and gift-giving culture in other government-owned corporations.
The inquiry will also examine broader issues relating to Australia Post’s service delivery, including the temporary move to “every second day” letter deliveries in metro areas during the pandemic.
Meet Paul Graham
When Paul Graham starts his new role as Australia Post’s chief executive in September, he’ll be on a generous base salary of $1.46 million.
If he does a good job, the former Woolworths supply chain boss could earn as much again in bonuses, taking home nearly $3 million.
When announcing the appointment on Monday, Mr Di Bartolomeo said: “Paul has a demonstrated track record of delivering results in large, complex organisations and is a proven leader managing large teams”.
So, who is he?
Originally from Northern Ireland, Mr Graham has 40 years of global experience in supply chain management across digital marketing and retail.
Before joining the Woolworths Group as chief supply chain officer in 2016, Mr Graham was a senior executive of Deutsche Post DHL Group.
During his time with Deutsche Post, he was Europe’s global chief operations officer and CEO, covering 65 countries, about 170,000 people and $32 billion in revenue.
Mr Graham has also been a board member of La Manna Group, worked as executive chairman of Williams Lea Tag, and has served on several government and university-linked advisory boards.