Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has given damning evidence before a Senate inquiry, claiming she was “bullied” by her chairman, “humiliated” by the prime minister and “unlawfully” stood down. It was the most explosive Senate testimony by an articulate, dignified woman named Christine since Blasey Ford’s. Holgate – who lost her position after it was revealed she bought Cartier watches for staff as bonuses – said that she was authorised to award people bonuses of up to $150,000 (the four watches had a total cost of $20,000), and that there was nothing to justify forcing her out of the job, in a public ordeal that left her suicidal. “I lost my job, a job that I loved, because I was humiliated by our prime minister for committing no offence,” she said in her opening statement, before going on to make a range of sensational claims, including that Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo had fabricated evidence against her, that she had never agreed to stand down, that her resignation discussions had been leaked to force an outcome, that Scott Morrison had never spoken to her directly about the watches, and that the PM had not been properly briefed on the situation when he stood in parliament to attack her. She also raised questions about the independence and agenda of the board. Holgate, dressed in suffragette white, joined the chorus of those comparing Morrison’s treatment of her with his response to the “terrible atrocities” alleged against his ministers, as well as the lack of outcry to bonuses authorised by previous (male) chief executives. Di Bartolomeo, in testimony after lunch, insisted Holgate had “stood aside” and was not owed an apology, while admitting she had been badly treated.
While much of Holgate’s testimony about her unfair treatment was expected, her claims about the government and the Australia Post board went even further. Responding to questioning from Labor’s Kimberley Kitching, Holgate noted that the board was not independent, with many of its members having strong Coalition ties. She later implied that her removal may have had something to do with an agenda to further privatise Australia Post, saying an unreleased report into the privatisation was “worse than what you think”. “We should stop having secret reviews,” she added. “Australia Post is an asset for all Australians.” Holgate suggested Di Bartolomeo had removed her to “curry favour” with the government, singling out Communications Minister Paul Fletcher as someone who may have wanted her gone, and that board member and former Liberal Party director Tony Nutt had told her that she was being stood down at the direction of the PM. “You have to understand, it is the prime minister so they needed to find something,” he reportedly said.
In his testimony, Di Bartolomeo confirmed Fletcher had indicated that he wanted Holgate stood aside, something he regarded as a “strong desire” as opposed to a directive (prompting extended discussion over what a “formal” direction looks like). Di Bartolomeo added that he had never spoken to Morrison personally. But it’s clear from his answers (and Holgate’s) that the Liberal-stacked board was responding to the prime minister’s very unsubtle signs.
In October 2020, it seemed everyone – from Labor to the government to journalists to the union – was against Holgate, but today senators from across the political spectrum were falling over themselves to appear sympathetic to her, with public opinion now on her side (with the notable exception of Liberal Senator David Van, who used his opening question to remind Holgate of her comments about the watches not being bought with taxpayer funds – an error, she in turn reminded him, she had apologised for, and which had not justified her public treatment). Labor was keen to forget it was them that first revealed and made a big deal of the expense, while Coalition senators were keen to remind us all of that fact, asking Holgate where she thought Kitching had gotten the information. Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson, who claimed to be “very moved” by Holgate’s testimony, asked whether Labor’s questioning at the October estimates hearing had been “fair”, to which Holgate replied that senators were “doing their job”. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and the Nationals’ Bridget McKenzie were also supportive of Holgate, with McKenzie thanking her for financially turning around Australia Post – an important business in regional and rural towns – and asking if she would consider coming back (“The chair would have to go,” came the response). Other Australia Post women present wore white in solidarity, while Holgate claimed she had received “thousands” of letters of support.
It’s not surprising that the mood has shifted behind Holgate (though Janine Perrett at Crikey has questions over who exactly is being martyred here), with the bullying of women in the workplace no longer the widely accepted practice it was, er, last October. When asked by Labor’s Kim Carr, Holgate suggested that her particularly vicious treatment had something to do with her gender, noting she’d never seen the media depict men like prostitutes. What’s more, the contrast between how Holgate was treated (over gift watches) and how Porter was treated (over rape allegations) could not be starker, and Holgate knows it. “I don’t know why the prime minister did what he did,” Holgate said today, laying the blame for her unfair situation squarely at Morrison’s feet. “But I was unlawfully stood down, I believe, because he instructed it to do so.”
“I’ve only ever asked for respect,” she added, “and I have never been allowed it.” Morrison, a disrespectful man who regularly snarls and smirks and scorns, picked the wrong victim this time. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned on the floor of parliament.