Chief of Australia Post Christine Holgate has fallen on her sword, admitting the “optics” of her gift of Cartier watches to four high-performing employees did not pass the “pub test” for many people.
Holgate’s Monday resignation follows Scott Morrison’s ferocious parliamentary attack on her last month, when he said “the chief executive … has been instructed to stand aside, if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go.”
Earlier that day, Holgate had revealed, under Labor questioning in Senate estimates, that she had given the watches as rewards.
The Prime Minister was particularly infuriated by Holgate’s claim they were not paid for by the taxpayer because Australia Post – which is government owned – was a commercial enterprise.
Morrison immediately set up an inquiry into the watches, which totalled nearly $20,000 in value, and other Australia Post expenses.
In a statement on Monday, Holgate said that with “great sadness” she had offered her resignation to the Post chair and board, with immediate effect. “I am not seeking any financial compensation,” she said.
She said she would make herself available to participate in the inquiry.
Holgate has been the object of a sustained leaking campaign to undermine her, reportedly involving disgruntled former employees.
Morrison’s attack on her has been criticised by some high profile business figures, who think he went beyond what was justified in response to her misjudgement.
Holgate said as Christmas approached, with its significant challenges, it was critically important Australia Post was absolutely focused on its customers and communities.
“I firmly believe the ‘ship’ needs a strong captain at the helm to help navigate through this time,” she said.
“The current issue I am managing is a significant distraction and I do not believe it is good for either Australia Post or my own personal wellbeing.
"Consequently, I have made the difficult decision to resign, hoping it will allow the organisation to fully focus on serving our customers.”
While conceding the watches had been bad optics, Holgate defended rewarding the employees who had forged a deal for banking services to be available through Post Offices.
“I have always sought to recognise and thank the efforts of our 80,000 strong extended team, as together they are the real heroes behind our results. Philosophically, I believe if you want to drive positive change, you need to thank and reward positive behaviours.
"However, 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 and I appreciate the optics of the gifts involved do not pass the ‘pub test’ for many.
"I still believe firmly that the people who achieved the Bank@Post outcome for Australia Post deserved recognition, their work secured a $220m investment over the following years, which dramatically improved the financial performance of the company, protected a critical community service which more than 50% of the communities in Australia depend on and made our Community Post Offices sustainable for the long term.”
She said she had “no animosity towards the Government and have enjoyed working with the Prime Minister, the Shareholder Ministers and many other political leaders during my tenure”.
“I am deeply appreciative of the significant support I have received from our people, our customers, our partners - especially our Community Licensed Post Offices and individuals across the country. I have made this difficult decision to leave to enable Australia Post to be able to fully focus on delivering for our customers.
"My sincere apologies if my words or actions have offended others as this would never have been my intention because I have always held Australia Post in the greatest regard.”
The union covering postal workers said Holgate’s resignation would not solve the “rot” at Australia Post.
It said the workforce “had been dismayed at recent management strategies including intentional underemployment, the move away from daily deliveries and a parcel back log that continues to grow out of control in many areas”.
CEPU Communications Union National Secretary Greg Rayner said “There’s something seriously wrong when management thinks nothing of splashing out on Cartier luxury watches but delivers only cut backs and service cuts for the rest of us”.
He said the “rest of the so-called leadership team must be held accountable for this mess”.
In a statement Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said under Holgate’s leadership, “Australia Post has risen to the challenge of the enormous increase in parcel volumes that accompanied the COVID-19 crisis”.
She had also “driven important reforms at Australia Post that have resulted in more sustainable arrangements for Licensed Post Offices and their franchisees”.