Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he regrets the hurt his parliamentary outburst caused to ousted Australia Post boss Christine Holgate, but has stopped short of apologising to her.
“My language that day was very strong. I see that has caused a very strong reaction from Christine and it hurt her deeply,” he told The West Australian newspaper on Wednesday.
“That was not my intention and so I regret that.
“But at the same time, the issue here was how taxpayers’ funds were being used in a government-owned company, and as Prime Minister I have to stand up for those standards and did.”
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In sensational evidence to a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, Ms Holgate broke her silence about the Cartier watches scandal that led to her departure from Australia Post in October 2020.
She said she was left “suicidal” and on prescription medication after being pushed out of her job as chief executive unwillingly, by Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo.
She also criticised Mr Morrison, who told Parliament he was “appalled” by the purchase of luxury watches for four senior executives, adding if Ms Holgate did not want to stand aside, “she can go”.
“I think it’s one of the worst acts of bullying I’ve ever witnessed,” Ms Holgate told the ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday.
“I think you would have rather hoped that before somebody publicly hung you and humiliated you, that they may pick up the phone and call you and ask you directly: What happened?”
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison said he had been concerned about the $20,000 in Cartier watches, particularly her assertion they had not been bought with taxpayer money.
“I took great difference with that statement, considerable difference,” he said.
He denied any “gender issues” in his treatment of Ms Holgate compared with male Coalition MPs who have been accused of scandalous behaviour against women and yet remain in parliament, and in his cabinet.
Ms Holgate told the inquiry on Tuesday that she believed she had been treated differently because she was a woman.
“Do I believe it’s partially a gender issue? You’re absolutely right, I do,” she said.
“But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right, I do.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who is chairing the inquiry, urged Mr Morrison to call Ms Holgate and apologise for how she was treated.
“The treatment that Christine Holgate was given in comparison to the backing that the PM has given men who have behaved badly in his own government is just so stark,” she told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“It’s hard not to understand the argument that gender was at play here.”
Businesswoman Lucy Turnbull has described the way Ms Holgate was treated by Mr Morrison as disgraceful and an example of misogyny.
Ms Turnbull said the former Australia Post boss should be reinstated.
“She was treated disgracefully and I can’t help thinking there was a bit of gender bias in the way she was treated,” Ms Turnbull told the ABC.
“I’d like anyone else to argue the contrary and point to a man who’s been treated like that.”
There are suggestions Ms Holgate was targeted because she opposed a secret plan to privatise the lucrative parcel delivery service at Australia Post.
The communications union has urged Mr Morrison to rule out breaking up key parts of the postal service, which Ms Holgate warned would cost thousands of jobs.
“Workers across Australia are now anxious and unclear about where, how and when potential job cuts will be introduced,” union president Shane Murphy said.
“Communities are left in the dark about whether their postal services will continue, the frequency of deliveries and what the future will bring.”
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