Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate has been asked to stand aside after the federal government ordered an investigation into the purchase of four luxury Cartier watches worth $3,000 each as a reward for senior executives.
Holgate confirmed under questioning from the Opposition, during a senate estimates hearing on Thursday, that the watches were purchased in October 2018 for four senior executives who needed to be “rewarded” for the “inordinate amount of work” they did in settling a deal with three of the big four banks and other financial institutions to set up personal banking within post office branches.
When asked by Victorian Labor Senator Kimberely Kitching if it was appropriate to use taxpayer’s money to reward “already highly remunerated Australia Post executives”, Holgate said: “I have not used taxpayer’s money, we [Australia Post] are a commercial organisation”. Australia Post is government-owned, with the Australian Government being the only shareholder, but is both self-funded and run and receives no tax-funding, according to the federal government.
During question time on Thursday afternoon, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he was “shocked and concerned” by the revelations and called for an investigation into the matter while asking Holgate to stand aside during the course of the investigation.
“This is a matter that the Australian government takes very seriously,” he said. “We expect the board and management of government business enterprises to deal with taxpayers’ money with scrupulous care and that is what this investigation will be focused on and it will examine the conduct of all involved in how this matter occurred.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was also “shocked and appalled” by the situation which came to light within the hour prior to question time starting. Morrison was clearly upset about the discovery saying that anyone in his position would likely feel the same way.
“We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people … and if the chief executive wished to stand aside, she has been instructed to stand aside, if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go!”
Meanwhile, during the budget estimate, Holgate established that the watches were a gift from herself, Chair of Australia Post Lucio Di Bartolomeo and the board but couldn’t recall which corporate credit card was used to purchase the watches despite the organisation’s Chief Financial Officer Rodney Boys also being present at the hearing.
“I cannot because I haven’t had that question today,” Boys said. “Australia Post has $7.4bn worth of expenses, we look after those expenses and take great care of those expenses.”
Financial documents also revealed on Wednesday that over the past two years to date, Australia Post has spent more than $800,000 on indoor plants prompting complaints that the organisation needs to tighten the budget.