Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate claims bullying by board chair, public humiliation by Scott Morrison

Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has said the Prime Minister publicly humiliated her. Picture: Karleen Minney
Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has said the Prime Minister publicly humiliated her. Picture: Karleen Minney

Australia Post's former head has doubled down on claims she was silenced and unlawfully forced out of the $1.6 million dollar role, accusing the postal agency's board of workplace bullying and the Prime Minister of publicly humiliating her.

The postal agency's former chief executive, Christine Holgate, appeared before senators on Tuesday morning to answer questions relating to her termination from the role following an expenses scandal over the purchase of Cartier watches made public in October last year.

Ms Holgate said she had faced serious repercussions to her health, including feeling suicidal, after being "unlawfully" ousted from the top job.

"I lost my job, a job that I loved, because I was humiliated by our Prime Minister for committing no offence, and then bullied by my chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, who unlawfully stood me down under the public direction of the Prime Minister," Ms Holgate said.

"This made my leadership at Australia Post untenable and seriously threatened my health.

"There are so many Australians who have told me their own stories of being victims of workplace harassment. Today, I stand here in support of them and all the people who've been intimidated, but had no voice."

Mr Di Bartolomeo later denied Ms Holgate's claims he had stood her down, adding it was her own choice and he had hoped she would stay on pending the outcome of an investigation.

He said he received two phone calls from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher at 1.09pm and 1.30pm on the day of Ms Holgate's October estimates appearance, requesting she be stood aside ahead of Question Time.

"She was a good CEO, but we went through a process ... where she came to a conclusion it was untenable for her to continue and the board reluctantly came to the same conclusion," Mr Di Bartolomeo said on Tuesday afternoon.

"It was a loss but there comes a time when you have to move on and that time had come for both of us."

She drew comparisons between the actions of Mr Morrison against members of his own party, who have faced serious allegations of sexual violence.

Ms Holgate said Mr Morrison had dismissed a November Four Corners program, which revealed questionable behaviour conducted by two government ministers, as being two years old.

"They're allowed to stand and still remain in their jobs and represent our country," Ms Holgate said.

Senator David Van asked whether Ms Holgate also regretted making a comment during the October estimates hearing that the postal agency was not taxpayer-funded and therefore could make the purchases without scrutiny.

Ms Holgate said she had already apologised for the comments made, which were an error.

"I was hung in Parliament, humiliated, not just hung, run over by bus, and reversed again because after four hours of a Senate process, I may have made a wrong comment?" Ms Holgate said.

"I've never seen a media article comment about a male politician's watch and yet, I was depicted as a prostitute for making those comments, humiliated.

"I have never seen any male public servant depicted in that way."

The result of the scandal made, Ms Holgate said, led to a deterioration of her mental health, leaving her feeling suicidal.

She contacted now-Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who she said she knew independently of his ministerial role, for a meeting to find a resolution.

She alleged Mr Birmingham never responded after initially agreeing to a meeting.

"[The request I sent] was rambling because I was seriously ill. I was on [medication], I was suicidal," Ms Holgate said.

"I texted Simon Birmingham on his private mobile, and asked him [for a meeting]. I heard nothing back ... I received no reply."

Mr Birmingham has since disputed these claims, with a spokesperson telling The Canberra Times the two had a "discussion" on November 25.

Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate said she was treated differently as a woman. Picture: Karleen Minney

Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate said she was treated differently as a woman. Picture: Karleen Minney

Ms Holgate's earlier submission to the inquiry claimed Mr Di Bartolomeo treated her "like a criminal" and blamed him for her being forced out of the top job.

"He lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their parliament about his actions," she wrote.

Ms Holgate said no explanation was provided for her forced departure, other than that Mr Morrison and Mr Fletcher demanded it.

Mr Di Bartolomeo released a statement in response last week, adding he and the board were "saddened and disappointed" by her resignation.

"My objective was, subject to the findings of the investigation, to have Ms Holgate back performing her role as soon as possible," he said.

"The board did not stand down, or suspend, Ms Holgate from her role - that being an unnecessary consideration given her agreement to stand aside."

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Ms Holgate was asked to step aside in October 2020 following Senate estimates revelations she had spent nearly $20,000 on the Cartier watches for senior staff as a reward for their work on an important deal.

Mr Morrison told parliament later that day he was "appalled" and "shocked" by the gifts.

"If, Mr Speaker, there are issues to be addressed with board members, then they will be addressed then," Mr Morrison said, adding that Ms Holgate would need to step aside or leave.

"She has been instructed to stand aside, if she doesn't wish to do that, she can go!"

He later announced a four-week independent investigation would be launched into the matter to determine whether the purchases made were lawful and in line with company policy.

Ms Holgate resigned 10 days after her estimates appearance amid intense scrutiny by politicians, issuing a statement the purchases did not pass the "pub test".

"I deeply regret that a decision made two years ago, which was supported by the chair, to recognise the outstanding work of four employees has caused so much debate and distraction," Ms Holgate said in November.

"I appreciate the optics of the gifts involved do not pass the 'pub test' for many."

The result of the investigation was handed to government in late 2020 but quietly released to the public on a Friday afternoon in January.

It cleared Ms Holgate and senior executive staff of any wrongdoing but found inconsistencies with the government company's policy and the public's perception of its role.

"There is no indication of dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds by any individual involved in the matters relating to the purchase and gifting of the Cartier watches," the report read.

Woolworths supply chain boss Paul Graham was named as Ms Holgate's successor on Monday ahead of Tuesday's hearing. He will be given an annual salary of $1.46 million and will begin the role in September.

The move angered opposition and independent senators, who called the announcement rushed and inappropriate.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who chairs the Senate inquiry into the saga, said while Ms Holgate's termination from Australia Post was before the committee, the appointment of a new chief executive was "inappropriate and seeks to undermine the senate inquiry process".

"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," Senator Hanson-Young said on Monday.

"One must also question whether this is a case of jobs for the boys, given all the evidence pointing to one set of rules for the boys' club and another for women in politics."

A group connecting the country's post offices, LPO Group, has called for her reappointment to the role.

In a submission to the inquiry, it noted the inconsistencies between the government's response to previous terminations.

"Licensees have been ventilating the need to forge a viable future for Australia Post for the future of our country," it read.

"That viable future has been totally jeopardised by the unfair, unjust and possibly unlawful removal of the CEO Christine Holgate, to the absolute detriment of the entire organisation."

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This story 'They silenced me': Holgate takes aim at PM, Australia Post chair first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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