Monday, 22 February 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister in the Senate, Senator Birmingham. Christine Holgate led Australia Post to record revenue levels in a period of immense challenge and has previously been praised by the Prime Minister and the Australia Post board. Given that stakeholder ministers were briefed in late November by Ms Holgate and in December and January at meetings with members of the Licensed Post Offices Group that the Chair of Australia Post made several incorrect statements when attending Senate estimates on 9 November—in particular, with reference to Ms Holgate—why, more than three months since the Prime Minister was first made aware that the chair, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, had lied to and misled Senate estimates in evidence regarding Ms Holgate and after she was completely exonerated by Australia Post's independent inquiry, has he not taken action to hold the chair accountable?
I thank Senator Hanson for the question, although I don't accept all of the characterisations made in Senator Hanson's question, particularly those in relation to Mr Di Bartolomeo. Obviously his statements to parliamentary committees are on the record and they are there for scrutiny. In relation to Ms Holgate, let me say that I have a very high regard for Ms Holgate, with whom I worked particularly in my previous portfolio, of Trade. I recognise the work that she did whilst at Australia Post. Ms Holgate took the step to resign from her position following some of the evidence that came out in the last lot of Senate estimates hearings. There has been a subsequent review in that regard. That review did making findings in relation to the purchase of Cartier watches and the actions that've been undertaken by Australia Post. Of course, it was Ms Holgate's decision that she resign at the time—I do wish her well. In response to that review I, as finance minister, have taken steps across all government business enterprises to remind them of their responsibilities under the PGPA Act, particularly the responsibilities to ensure appropriate use of taxpayers' money, which, ultimately, was the matter of concern in relation to the purchase of those Cartier watches.
Yes. Minister, I am advised that the stood-down CEO of Australia Post has not signed an agreement to resign and her standing down was not in accordance with Australia Post policy. Why is the Prime Minister protecting the chair of Australia Post, or is this a case of the Prime Minister not being advised of a matter impacting the treatment of a high-profile female?
No, I don't accept the characterisation there, Senator Hanson. The statement released by Ms Holgate following Senate estimates clearly indicated her public announcement of her resignation. That was a decision made by Ms Holgate. As I said, I hold her in high regard. We are all capable of making mistakes and errors of judgement in relation to certain matters. And, of course, in relation to these matters the government has sought to make sure not only that there was an appropriate review which was undertaken but also, now, that all government business enterprises are reminded of their responsibilities and obligations. As a result of that review Australia Post will take further steps in relation to their procedures and practices to make sure that taxpayers' money and funds are respected appropriately in the future.
Ms Holgate did not resign and she did not release a statement. She continues to receive resounding support from the employees and contractors at Australia Post. Will the Prime Minister apologise to Ms Holgate? Will the Prime Minister, who so quickly abandoned her, support Ms Holgate's continuation as CEO? What action will be taken against the chair of Australia Post?
We will continue to work with the board of Australia Post to make sure that the organisation implements the findings of the review that was undertaken. As I said, I don't accept the characterisation of some of the elements that Senator Hanson has brought forward. I wish Ms Holgate well in relation to her future endeavours. We will continue to work with licensed post office franchisees, postal representatives and others across the Australia Post system to make sure that some of the good work that occurred under Ms Holgate's tenure continues and is advanced by the new chief executive, the recruitment process of whom is well underway.