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Poor Timing: Cartier meets Australia Post

Watch brands do not tend to circulate as discussion topics in the Australian federal parliament. Time watching is a more functional affair. But Australia Post’s Chief Executive Christine Holgate gave politicians their chance to shine on October 21 in what can only be described as a mauling. In Senate Estimates, eyes were honing on small details. Why had four Australia Post executives received Cartier watches, valued at AU$19,950 in total?

In the bruising Senates Estimates session, Holgate had actually claimed that the four watches in question had cost AU$3000 each, tokens of appreciation for the “inordinate” work Gary Starr, Deanne Keetelaar, Anna Bennett and Greg Sutherland had put into securing the Bank@Post deal. The deal involved the Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac paying AU$22 million in annual fees for providing banking services at Australia Post branches. But Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo was ever helpful, correcting the amounts in a statement. Apparently, the Cartier watches gifted to staff in November 2018 cost AU$7,000, AU$4,759, AU$4,400 and AU$3,800.

Holgate also stumbled in claiming that the watches had not been purchased using proceeds from the Australian taxpayer. “I have not used taxpayers’ money. We are a commercial organisation; it was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded.”

This synaptic lapse was understandable to some degree. Australia Post is owned by the federal government but draws no funding from it. It remains an independent business. But Holgate had erred in blending the cultures of the corporate sector and those of the public. It was sufficient to put some government members into a more than irritable mood.

What stood out in the response to Holgate was its overly shrill note. Outrage was everywhere, coming from government members and even unions, with whom the conservative Morrison government has little by way of common ground. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was “shocked and concerned as everybody else to discover [the Cartier watch gifts] when it was revealed in Estimates this morning.” He had also informed Holgate that she would “stand aside during the course of this investigation.”

The language of Greg Rayner, the national secretary of the CEPU communications union, was all venom and extermination. “The Government needs to intervene further than just wiping out the CEO – Australia post needs a whole reshuffle to get their leadership team right.”

The response from Prime Minister Scott Morrison was stormy and unctuous. The gifts were “disgraceful and not on.” The federal government “are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people.” By the next day, his mood had barely improved. “I don’t think what we learned [on Thursday] would have passed any test with the Australian public when it comes to a company that is owned by the government.”

This was a far cry from the phlegmatic air of his government to a bungle that led to the overpayment of AU$27.6 million of taxpayers money for a 12.26 hectare land parcel adjacent to Western Sydney Airport in 2018. On October 19, Senate Estimates heard from the Auditor-General of the Australian National Audit Office Grant Hehir that “the Commonwealth may have been defrauded.” The matter had even been referred to the Australian Federal Police.

The stench of the deal between the Department of Infrastructure and the Leppington Pastoral Company, which so happens to be a Liberal Party donor, was impressive. The audit office was baffled to find that AU$30 million changed hands for property that had been valued by the company’s own accounts at AU$3 million. Senators also heard from Department of Infrastructure Simon Atkinson that two public servants were under investigation for the deal, with one having been stood down. Labor Senator Penny Wong put it to Atkinson that a cover up was afoot. “Senator, I agree with you,” came Atkinson’s reply. “I’m trying to clean it up.”

It was all, then, a matter of timing. With the government itself caught out in a deal that had been praised in September by the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack as a “very good investment” and “bargain,” scalps had to be sourced from elsewhere. Holgate supplied the opportunity, which was taken with distracting glee.

Holgate has not made matters easy for herself. She has been doing what many corporate executives do: splash out and find the baubles, though not in a necessarily obscene way. A good amount has been spent on corporate credit cards and chauffeur-driven transport (according to figures from the 2018/20 financial year, AU$300,000). A reputation management firm was hired for a sum of $AU119,000 for a mere 38 days’ work between June and July this year.

Then again, Prime Minister Morrison had little to say to parcel delays, the pruning back of letter delivery services to every second day and the rise in postal prices. Other lavish expenditures such as the AU$1 million spent on indoor plants barely warranted a mention.

Seemingly forgotten in the Cartier storm are other aspects of Holgate’s tenure: arriving at Australia Post with a fifth of the pay given to her predecessor Ahmed Fahour, whose total salary package in 2016 was AU$5.6 million; the Bank@Post deal, which was manna from heaven to licensed post office work. Angela Cramp of the LPO Group, a body representing postal franchisees, went so far as to suggest that the “deal saved the licensed post office network.” Franchisees providing banking services in rural and regional areas had been previously short changed by the banks, who not only felt it decent to close their branches in those areas but inadequately pay post office branches for supplying substitute services. “We were in jeopardy of closing down across the country.”

Holgate has a few defenders, though they do come with a tarnishing. Eddie McGuire, president of the Collingwood Football Club, spoke highly of the chief executive, who also happens to be a board member of the club. “Why do we go and get superstar, business people to run public entities, and then try and make them play like dullards?”

Holgate has made her share of enemies, and this presented an opportunity. The language she used at the Estimates hearing was telling, confusing that of greater corporate freedom with the often hypocritical values of public service reserve. She did not regard the $60 million spent in bonuses as “bonuses” at all, as they were shared between 2,500 staff facing the increased volume of mail deliveries during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Some 34,500 frontline workers had also received “thank you” payments of AU$600, totalling AU$AU27 million.

This did not prevent such observations as those of Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who pointed an accusing finger at Australia Post for profiteering from the pandemic. The sticks and kindling have been brought out and a burning is expected. No gender defenders are expected this time.

 

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12 comments

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  1. Graham

    Was a fringe benefits tax liability (49%) incurred and paid by Australia Post on the non-cash watch benefits ?

  2. Jack Cade

    If you are a public servant, and the people who appointed you use the public purse freely as their own bank account, with absolutely no recourse from the people supposedly meant to enforce the ‘rule of law’ (whatever that Trumpian term means), then you’d possibly feel free to act like them. After all, Kathy Jackson got away with it, to loud applause from the LNP.

  3. Gangey1959

    1) Ms holgate is only an appointed (by the current federal government) public servant, not an elected politician.
    2) She organised a deal whereby the big banks are going to pay the people of Australia a rather large sum of cash for doing their work for them, as opposed to the current elected governments strategy of enabling the (big 4) banks to service the people of Australia for extremely large sums of money.
    3) She has tried to justify her actions by comparing her public corporation (similar to nbnco) to private companies who do exactly the same thing.
    4) She made the mistake of not telling the exact amount of the spend, instead multiplying the smallest amount by 4 to equal 12 grand instead of about 20, whereas a “real” company (nbnco) would have added another zero at least to it’s managerial bonuses.
    5) She got caught. At a time when scotty and his cronies were desperate for someone to hang out to dry because dictaor Dan wouldn’t quit, the sharks weren’t in the final, leppington was getting too hot, krudd had kicked off about uncle voldemurdoch and people are on board with that, a federal ICAC has to be dodged because there are too many other things to do/cover up/ hide in the cupboard under the speaker’s seat, and someone has to go.
    6) She has no (at this point in time) publicly recognised religious affiliation with anyone.

    I am staggered that whichever minister holds the portfolio under which AP falls has not already sold it to chinapost, free wontons and a fortune cookie with every delivery, already at somewhere less than 50% of it’s value cos that’s how they run, but so far, so good.

    Senator sh-y is forgetting officeworks, couriers please, fastway et al, all of whom have made huge inroads into the profits of Australia Post with their alternative networks and low costs, with the resultant profits going straight offshore.

    Anyway, 1-6 taken into consideration, and shes only female anyway, and there are plenty of housewives standing around doing sweet bugger all thanks to covid19 and we have the stats to prove it, SHE HAS TO GO !

  4. Roswell

    I’m more stunned over the $1 million spent on indoor plants.

    That’s the equivalent of over 909,000 standard postage stamps.

  5. Oldjourno

    Does anybody else remember the $49,000 a pop Rolex watches gifted by a ‘Chinese businessman’ to assorted LNP politicians and apparatchiks a while ago? I believe one or two of them even gave them back! But only after it hit the news.

  6. !

    In Australia, there is a **citizenship test* requiring applicants to score better than 60% in order to be successful. Hardly a high hurdle. But given the statement made by Australia’s Prime Minister of recent times, one doubts whether he would pass. In response to this gift of the watch issue, Morrison asserted:

    “Well, we are the shareholder on behalf of the taxpayers,’’

    Then again most Australian voters don’t see themselves as first class citizens but choose to define themselves as de facto second rate taxpayers – and then complain when they are treated with contempt. Yep we get what we deserve when we don’t know who we are and how we should relate to government. Suppose Morrison knows that too. But apparently not.

    https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/eddie-mcguire-explodes-over-the-scandal-surrounding-australia-post-boss-christine-holgate/news-story/a92db0049ee6e43ec31015abb02de232

  7. New England Cocky

    There is little doubt that Holgate is being made the convenient patsy for a corrupt and incompetent self-serving misgovernment that has sold out the best interests of Australian voters to the foreign owned multinational corporate miners and any other foreign entity that will pay the necessary political donations to the Liarbral Party or the Nazional$.

    Scummo taking umbridge in large does over a mere $12,000 in a $20 MILLION deal is a bad joke played by an uncaring Prim Monster who has remained silent during the COVID-19 pandemic facilitated by his alleged intervention on behalf of Hillsongers wanting to be home for lunch rather than wait for the return of COVID-19 testing results on the Ruby Princess.

    Uhm ….. where was the ”distress” exhibited in the numerous rorts and scams committed by his Ministers?????? Now what about your deal at taxpayer expense with JENNY’S BEST MATE to provide ”Chaperone Services”‘ in case the amoral, adulterous alcoholic Barnyard Joke comes to visit?

    Congratulations Ms Holgate, A good job well done!!! But you have broken two Liarbral rules by being a successful corporate woman in a world of incompetent misogynistic confused gender males, and, prevented the Big Four banks from screwing over the Licensed Post Offices owned and staffed by working Australian voters.

  8. wam

    What great read doctor Kampmark!!!!
    So many points of corporate bullshit that is bbaaaed by conservatives:
    “Why do we go and get superstar, business people to run public entities, and then try and make them play like dullards?”” What about getting monkeys if you pay peanuts??
    The ending was deliciously funny>>>
    another little miracle of distraction for scummo.
    The story I like is his mum and mother in law living in kirribilli with commonwealth cars and ‘care’.
    that must be worth 50 watches??
    ps Gangey1959 a beaut post!!
    pps
    Festival Hall, the legendary Melbourne music venue that hosted packed houses for the Beatles, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra, has been sold “by God’s grace” to the Hillsong Church for $23 million.
    Will we know of a buy back of $40m and lease of a peppercorn???

  9. Hank

    But let us not forget the inimitable Arthur ‘See no Donors’ Sinodinos. An archetype of cunning corruption. A stalwart of ‘failed’ recall. Gladys must have been an ardent pupil.

    But hey in the USA they gots ‘handmaid’ Amy to gift the Orange Freak 4 more, and the au rapture prime minimal & crim gang must be in angas Nev land.

    https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/arthur-sinodinos-thinks-hes-in-the-clear–but-hes-forgotten-a-few-things,9428

  10. paul walter

    I’ve been of the same line of thinking as Binoy Kampmark.

    The mentality is typical of, rather than anomalous to, the mentality that runs through politics and big business during late neo liberalism.

    In fact it is laughable that a few watches worth lest than fifteen thousand dollars should be singled out when a person considers the nonsenses involving sly politicians like Fletcher, Angus Taylor, McCormack and the rest.

    You wonder at Holgate against the $ billions unaccounted for re Defence procurements and involving other sectors of government, like the resources sector, including so called water policy.

    And then there the bonuses running into the millions involving banking executives, with accountability to shareholders avoided.

    Gangney is right, she got caught.

    But only because someone looked there. So many instances where people like the “honest” boss at ASIC have somehow been looking the other way.

  11. Brozza

    Q. If she was a bloke and gave money bonuses to the same value, instead of ‘cheap’ cartier watches, would we be having this conversation?
    A. No

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