Aus Post boss asked to stand aside, PM ‘appalled’ by scandal
Besieged Australia Post boss Christine Holgate is staring down calls to quit over a string of scandals capped off by the revelation that $3000 Cartier watches were bought for executives.
Scott Morrison forced the chief executive to stand aside on Thursday and threatened that if she refused, "she can go", as MPs and senior government figures pushed for her resignation.
The furore erupted after Ms Holgate - a Collingwood Football Club board member - told a Senate inquiry $12,000 was spent on luxury watches for four staff in 2018 after they struck a deal with the banks to provide services in post offices.
The Prime Minister ordered an urgent investigation into the Melbourne-based Ms Holgate, her executives and the board, saying: "I was appalled, it's disgraceful and it's not on."
The ritzy reward was exposed by Labor senator Kimberley Kitching but defended by Ms Holgate, who was wearing a Bulgari watch believed to be worth more than $40,000 as she argued the government-owned business was a "commercial organisation".
"I have not used taxpayers' money," Ms Holgate said.
"It was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded."
On Thursday night, Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo said the board and management team would "fully cooperate" with the investigation.
He said Ms Holgate would stand aside during the four-week probe, with chief financial officer Rodney Boys acting in the top job.
"We remain committed to delivering for our important stakeholders - our people, our post office partners, our customers and the community," Mr Di Bartolomeo said in a statement.
A tweet that appears to have been penned by Australia Post's official page poking fun at its executives for being gifted expensive watches has been deleted.
The tweet which made reference to other staff having "light" wrists, appears to have been posted just after 1pm on Thursday before it was taken down.
"Don't forget about the behind the scenes and customer support staff. My wrist is light - Liam," it read.
Australia Post has been contacted for comment.
Earlier on Thursday, the Herald Sun revealed Australia Post splurged $900,000 in just over two years on indoor plants for its offices, with the spending not reined in even when staff were forced to work from home this year.
The Herald Sun had also revealed Ms Holgate and her office spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on corporate credit cards, including for a car service to chauffeur her around, plus $119,178 for two months of "reputation management" advice during the pandemic.
Australia Post also handed out $92m in bonuses this year as postage prices were jacked up and delivery times blew out.
At Thursday's hearing, Ms Holgate's team confirmed just 77.9 per cent of letters were delivered within five days in Melbourne last month, well below its regulated target.
It also emerged that of last year's bonus bill, $60m was paid to 2500 employees, including $10.1m for 67 general managers.
While Ms Holgate and her top executives did not receive incentives last year, after an internal debate, she said Australia Post was "contractually obliged" to deliver bonuses to senior staff.
She said she understood the "sensitivity to executive pay" and her team had "done a lot of work to actually try and modestly adjust senior management pay".
Liberal senator James Paterson, who exposed the $5.6m pay packet of her predecessor Ahmed Fahour in 2017, said: "Christine Holgate should read the room and go now."
"It's remarkable that after the experience of her predecessor that there is still anyone at Australia Post who doesn't realise every dollar they spend as a government business enterprise belongs to taxpayers," he said.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he was "shocked and concerned". He told Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo the government-owned business needed to "take great care with taxpayers' money".
Opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland called for Australia Post's board to be "cleaned up", saying it was a "dysfunctional swamp of former Liberal politicians, party hacks, and mates of Scott Morrison".
Communications Union boss Greg Rayner said the watch purchases were "outrageous" but only "the tip of the iceberg".
Ms Holgate also faced scrutiny over Australia Post's threat to call the police after the City of Melbourne intercepted stubby holders which One Nation leader Pauline Hanson tried to send to residents of locked down public housing towers in Melbourne.
It comes as the Herald Sun can also reveal a survey of Victorian posties found more than 90 per cent believed changes to delivery requirements during the pandemic harmed the quality of service.
The federal government allowed Australia Post to suspend its priority letters service, deliver letters every second day in metro areas, and extend the required delivery time for intrastate letters to five days.
The Communication Workers Union found most posties were unable to take breaks and had to exceed 10km/h riding on footpaths to keep up with their rounds. Even then, nine out of ten said some letters remained undelivered.
Communication Workers Union branch secretary Leroy Lazaro said morale among his members had "never been lower".
"With mail also being delayed for days on end, the government needs to restore the traditional mail service standards and Australia Post need to provide extra resources, not less, to deal with the new norm of e-commerce," he said.
Originally published as Aus Post boss asked to stand aside, PM 'appalled' by scandal