Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate has claimed she was unlawfully ousted from her job and subjected to a bullying and harassment campaign led by both the Government and the Australia Post chairman that ultimately left her suicidal.
Speaking before a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, Holgate said she had been “humiliated by our prime minister” through no fault of her own and later bullied by Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo. She said the effects of the public spat left her suicidal and deeply unwell.
“I have done no wrong. Their bullying of me was far from over. I was subjected to a biased investigation and intimidated with constant threats of further allegations and criticism,” Holgate said on Tuesday.
“Throughout this time, my health had deteriorated to the point where I could not find my voice to fight back. This is a day the chairman of Australia Post and the other men involved in what happened to me will be held to account.”
The executives in question had received the watches after securing the Bank@Post partnership which allowed people to do their banking at post offices.
The then-CEO said that as the Australia Post was a commercial organisation, the gifts were no different to typical corporate practice. She later apologised for those comments.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an investigation into the gifts on the same day, and blasted Holgate, saying, “If she doesn’t wish to [stand aside during the investigation], she can go.”
Holgate said reports she had voluntarily stepped aside were untrue and accused Di Bartolomeo of further poisoning public and political sentiment against her.
“My evidence is backed up by hard facts, written proof. It is undeniably independent witnesses, it is veritable. In contrast, the evidence of the chairman of Australia Post is fabricated,” Holgate said.
“He fabricated the agreement by myself to stand down and he continues to do so today. I believe he did so to save his own position from political peril and because it amounted he would never be called to account for his actions.”
She said Australia Post needs to release both the inbound and outbound phone records of the discussions around her stand down.
In its submission to the inquiry, Australia Post said Holgate voluntarily stood down in a phone call on 22 October.
However, Holgate said that that phone call didn’t occur.
A gender-based attack
Holgate said she believes Di Bartolomeo stood her down on orders from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and that she considers it to be a gender-based attack.
"I was depicted as a prostitute for making those comments, humiliated."
“It would be fair to say 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,” she said.
“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 I do. But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do.”
She said Di Bartolomeo was aware of the gifts, and that the chief financial officer had also signed off on the watches.
“They were audited. There was never any question whatsoever from anybody that they were not in any way a breach of any policy,” she said.
She said she would happily return to Australia Post, noting that her LinkedIn description still says “CEO of Australia Post”.
However, she added, her return would hinge on Di Bartolomeo’s departure.
Holgate treated 'abysmally' but not owed apology
Di Bartolomeo said Communications Minister Paul Fletcher wanted the Australia Post to stand Holgate aside and support the investigation into the gifts.
He said that while Holgate may have been "treated abysmally", she wasn't owed an apology from Australia Post, and instead laid blame at the feet of the media and Parliament.
"While the board understood her rationale, I wanted to be clear that neither I, nor the board’s sought or encouraged Christine’s resignation," he said.
"The events that Christine referred to was not so much the purchase of the four watches as a reward for executives who had secured a valued Bank@Post deal, a deal that would prove highly [important] for the long term viability of many [licensees], rather it was the increasingly acute public scrutiny, including media focus and commentary from right across the community spectrum that developed on the back of the estimates appearance and showed no signs of diminishing."
He said that if he had known about the purchase of the watches he would have vetoed the decision, but described it as an error in judgment from an "otherwise highly effective CEO".