The Guardian Australia
Christine Holgate engages leading lawyers over Australia Post dispute
Former Australia Post chief Christine Holgate has engaged a team of leading lawyers, raising the possibility of legal action that could draw in a number of Morrison government ministers.
Holgate has engaged top reputational risk lawyer Rebekah Giles and barrister Arthur Moses, who have invited Australia Post, communications minister Paul Fletcher and finance minister Simon Birmingham to mediation.
Holgate is eyeing potential claims beyond the breach of contract she alleges against her employer, including negligence, tortious interference in contractual relations and defamation – although she is seeking a settlement to avoid litigation.
Australia Post denies Holgate’s claim its chair, Lucio di Bartolomeo, unlawfully stood her down from her job, insisting she agreed to stand aside and later resigned over the politicallycharged saga surrounding a gift of $20,000 worth of Cartier watches to senior executives.
In addition to blaming di Bartolomeo, Holgate argues she was bullied out of the job by Scott Morrison, who declared in parliament if she did not wish to stand aside voluntarily “she can go”.
The mediation invitation comes at a sensitive time for the government, as Holgate’s bullying accusation comes on the heels of its failure to manage allegations of sexual violence by Brittany Higgins, who says she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer, and against Christian Porter, who has denied a historical rape allegation.
In her submission to a Senate inquiry, Holgate said she had complained about di Bartolomeo’s public statements about the Cartier watches saga to both Fletcher and Birmingham.
“Time after time, I reached out and asked for help to resolve things amicably,” she said. “I have received none.”
A spokesman for Fletcher told Guardian Australia that “issues concerning Ms Holgate’s employment and resignation are matters for her and Australia Post”. Guardian Australia contacted Birmingham and Australia Post for comment.
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In addition to targeting the two Morrison government ministers, Holgate’s crack legal team have already extracted an apology from newsletter Crikey over an article it published titled
“Forget Australia Post. Here’s the real reason to attack Christine Holgate.”
On Thursday, Crikey said claims in the article were “false and defamatory”, unconditionally withdrew them and apologised to Holgate for any hurt or offence caused. On Wednesday, Crikey also apologised for and retracted comments made about Lachlan Murdoch in the article.
Guardian Australia understands as part of the settlement Crikey also agreed to pay Holgate’s legal fees.
The entire Australia Post board has been invited to the Senate inquiry to answer questions about Holgate’s exit, at a hearing scheduled for 27 April.
Former Liberal party national director Tony Nutt will be the witness of greatest interest – after Holgate’s testimony suggested Nutt had attributed the decision to stand her down directly to the prime minister.
According to Holgate, Nutt had told her “Christine, you need to understand it was the prime minister” and the board was left with no choice but to stand her aside.
Giles also acts for the minister for industry, science and technology, Christian Porter, who is suing the ABC and investigative reporter Louise Milligan for an article alleging a complaint had been made by a now dead woman accusing an unnamed cabinet minister of raping her in 1988. Porter publicly identified himself as the minister and strenuously denied the allegation.
Giles also acted for Higgins, who accused former boss Linda Reynolds of defaming her by describing her as a “lying cow”, which Reynolds later offered to apologise for.