Christine Holgate alleges Australia Post chair lied to parliament in wake of Cartier watches saga

Christine Holgate alleges Australia Post chair lied to parliament in wake of Cartier watches saga

Christine Holgate alleges Australia Post chair lied to parliament in wake of Cartier watches saga

The former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has doubled down on her claim she never agreed to stand aside over her controversial gift of Cartier watches to senior executives, and alleged the company’s chair repeatedly lied about the saga.

Holgate, in a submission to a Senate inquiry, alleges Lucio Di Bartolomeo unlawfully stood her down and “lied repeatedly to the Australian people” and misled parliament by stating she had done so voluntarily.

Australia Post’s submission reiterates its position that Holgate agreed to stand aside on 22 October 2020 pending an investigation into the gifts.

In her first public comments since her departure in November, which followed a fierce backlash over the watches worth $20,000, Holgate alleges she was stood down “for no justified reason” on 22 October when the gifts were revealed in Senate estimates. Holgate claims she was “humiliated in parliament” when the prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the gifts as “disgraceful”.

Holgate alleges she was “treated like a criminal” and endured “the most harrowing 10 days of my career” before she later decided to resign on 1 November. No deed of release was signed to formalise her exit.

Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches to reward the executives’ performance was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.

The watches were a reward for the Bank@Post deal, through which Australia Post earned $220m for providing financial services on behalf of three of the big four banks at local post offices.

An investigation by Maddocks lawyers, commissioned by the government, “exonerated” her, despite Di Bartolomeo “unfairly influencing” it by publicly declaring he would have vetoed the gifts, Holgate said in her submission.

Holgate blamed the federal communications minister, Paul Fletcher, and Morrison for failing to “acknowledge the watch reward occurred two years ago, for securing the largest investment into the community post offices or that they had been approved by the previous chair”.

In a torrid question time on 22 October, Morrison warned if Holgate “doesn’t wish to [stand aside] she can go”. The dispute now centres on whether conversations between Di Bartolomeo and Holgate that afternoon constituted her standing aside.

According to Australia Post, Holgate “initially resisted the request to stand aside … but ultimately agreed that she would stand aside … pending the outcome of the investigation and any further action”.

In Holgate’s version, Di Bartolomeo asked her to stand aside at 1.30pm but she replied she “did not want to step down but … would absolutely support any investigation”.

Holgate then pulled together evidence defending the purchase, including photos of cards signed by the former Australia Post chair, John Stanhope, arguing he approved of the “reward for the tremendous work and result on Bank@Post”.

In a second call from Di Bartolomeo, Holgate queried whether Fletcher knew the gifts were approved, she said in her submission.

“I emphasised I did not want to step down as it would cause chaos just as they were entering the Christmas Peak, but I did offer to take annual leave and support an investigation,” she said. “I did NOT speak to the chair that afternoon at all following the traumatic events of question time.”

Holgate said Di Bartolomeo never formally responded to her offer to take leave, and instead distributed a resignation statement from her before a final termination agreement was reached.

In its submission, Australia Post said Holgate “agreed to stand aside” although the company conceded “there was some discussion” about the possibility of Holgate taking annual leave.

“On 2 November 2020, Ms Holgate resigned with immediate effect and advised that she was not seeking any financial compensation from Australia Post,” it said.

The submission also quotes the Maddocks review, which it said contradicted Holgate by finding that the “former chair’s position is that he did not” approve the provision of the watches to their recipients.

That review also noted there was “contradictory evidence as to whether [Holgate] informed the former chair that it was her intention to purchase the Cartier watches”.

The Maddocks review found the board did not approve the purchases. Although there was no “dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds”, the review concluded the gifts were inconsistent with public service obligations regarding the “proper use and management of public resources”.

Holgate, in her submission, accused Di Bartolomeo of providing “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November when he said he had not seen the review of Australia Post undertaken by BCG in the financial year 2019-20.

“He knows all about the BCG report, despite his lies to the Senate,” she said. “He saw drafts of it, he sat in five-hour-long meetings about its contents.”

In December, Australia Post wrote to the Senate communications committee to correct the evidence, clarifying that although Di Bartolomeo hadn’t seen the “report arising from that review” the company “was provided a draft report during the latter stages of the review”.

Once that clarification was incorporated, Australia Post submitted it considered the earlier evidence was “accurate”.

The Senate inquiry which is examining the circumstances surrounding the gifting in 2018 of the watches to the four managers is due to report by 30 April. Holgate and Di Bartolomeo are expected to give in-person evidence.

Guardian Australia contacted Di Bartolomeo for comment. Fletcher declined to comment.

the guardian

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