Holgate’s time comes after public humiliation
Christine Holgate has accused Scott Morrison of “humiliating’’ her and the Australia Post chairman of bullying, as she lashed out at the circumstances behind her departure as chief executive over the $20,000 gift to senior executives of four Cartier watches.
In a three-hour appearance before a Senate inquiry into the affair on Tuesday, Ms Holgate said her treatment was a “gender issue’’ and revealed she had contemplated suicide after being told by the Prime Minister to stand aside or “go’’ over the Cartier watch affair.
“I lost my job, a job that I loved, because I was humiliated, because I was humiliated by the Prime Minister, committing no offence, and then bullied by my chairman,” she said.
Ms Holgate called for Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo to be sacked or resign, accusing him of lying to the Senate when he said she had agreed to step down in a phone call on October 22 after the grant of the watches was revealed in Senate estimates.
Three hours later, Mr Di Bartolomeo gave his own evidence to the Senate committee. He said he had not lied and he would not be resigning from the Australian Post board.
Mr Di Bartolomeo said Ms Holgate had been treated “abysmally’’ in the whole furore, she had agreed to stand aside voluntarily and he had been shocked when she resigned her position.
Ms Holgate, wearing “suffragette” white and flanked by supporters, who included head of the Licensed Post Office group Angela Cramp and Australia Post general manager, customer services Taeressa Fawthrop, told the committee she had been treated differently because she was a woman.
Labor senator Kimberley Kitching — who delivered the killer question to Ms Holgate last October that revealed four Australia Post executives had received Cartier watches as a reward for closing a major deal with big banks — was also dressed in suffragette white for the hearing.
Anthony Albanese, who called for Ms Holgate’s head last October, sparking the Prime Minister’s demand in a heated question time for her to stand aside or “go’’, decried her treatment.
The Opposition Leader used Ms Holgate’s testimony to attack the government and said she had been treated differently from beleaguered ministers such as Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds,
“I did regard the Cartier watches as being inappropriate. But the fact is that it was Scott Morrison who stood up in parliament and actually, for a change, made a strong decision,” Mr Albanese said in Perth.
“The fact of the matter is if you are a cabinet minister in Scott Morrison’s government, you can do whatever you like. And that contrasts with the actions against Christine Holgate.”
Ms Holgate told the Senate she had been treated differently as a woman in being asked to stand aside when male ministers who had been accused of behaving badly were still in their posts.
She said such was the level of humiliation and subsequent anxiety after Mr Morrison demanded she lose her job, she contemplated suicide and was on medication to treat insomnia.
“I was seriously ill. I was on temazepam. I was suicidal,” she said. “I was hung in parliament, humiliated, not just run over by a bus but reversed again, because after four hours in a Senate process I may have made a wrong comment when it would be perfectly OK to abuse women.”
The comment Ms Holgate was referring to was that she had not used taxpayers’ money to buy the Cartier watches, a comment for which she has since apologised.
Asked by the inquiry’s chair, Greens senator Sarah HansonYoung, if there was a difference between the way she had been treated with the way the Prime Minister had treated “men who have been accused of behaving badly” in his own cabinet, Mr Holgate said “I absolutely do”.
“I’ve never seen a media article comment about a male politician’s watch,” she said. “And yet I was depicted as a prostitute. I have never seen any male public servant depicted in that way.
“So do I believe it’s partially a gender issue? You’re absolutely right. Do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right.”
Ms Holgate also accused Mr Di Bartolomeo of lying when he said he had never seen a draft of a “secret review” that Boston Consulting Group prepared for the government that would have led to mass job losses at Australia Post. She said her opposition to the report had made her unpopular with the government.
Later Ms Holgate told the ABC’s 7.30 she was considering legal action after earlier providing to the Senate a legal option by her lawyer, Ingmar Taylor SC, claiming she could be compensated for the way she had been stood down.
Ms Holgate appealed to Mr Morrison to call her, apologise for publicly humiliating her on the floor of parliament and help her resolve her contract dispute with Australia Post.
Ms Holgate’s lawyer said, in his opinion, a court would allow Ms Holgate to terminate her contract and seek damages against Australia Post because she was “unlawfully” stood down.
In a 1pm phone call with Mr Di Bartolomeo on October 22, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who oversees Australia Post with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, expressed “a strong desire” for Ms Holgate to step down while Cartier gifts and other expenses were investigated.
Mr Di Bartolomeo said he did not consider Mr Fletcher’s comments a formal direction, despite the minister calling him 20 minutes later to confirm that he wanted Ms Holgate to stand aside and Mr Morrison later saying in question time that she had been “instructed” to stand down.
Mr Di Bartolomeo said Ms Holgate had been “treated abysmally” and he spoke to her several times that afternoon in an effort to convince her to stand aside. “The discussion I had with
‘I was hung in parliament, humiliated, not just run over by a bus but reversed again’
CHRISTINE HOLGATE FORMER AUSTRALIA POST CHIEF EXECUTIVE
her was for her to volunteer to stand aside,” he said. “What the board said was if she did not agree to stand aside, we would consider alternative action. But she did stand aside and we didn’t need to follow any other action and therefore (it) became irrelevant.”
Mr Di Bartolomeo told the Senate he was shocked that Ms Holgate offered to resign, saying that, had she not done that, she may have kept her job.
Australia Post’s human resources boss Susan Davies supported Ms Holgate’s claim that she never agreed to stand aside.
Ms Davies joined Ms Holgate in a private car from Canberra to Sydney last October after appearing at a Senate estimates committee. It was during that 4½-hour trip that Mr Di Bartolomeo said Ms Holgate agreed to stand aside. “I’m not aware, and do not recall any conversation … where Christine agreed to stand down,” Ms Davies said.