The Australia Post CEO who has stood aside over a Cartier watch scandal made her appearance at Senate estimates on Thursday wearing a gold watch from Bulgari that retails for up to $48,000.
In a most unfortunate coincidence for the organisation’s first female chief executive, her taste for bling was captured by photographers as she was grilled over the decision to spend $12,000 on four Cartier watches for her staff.
Christine Holgate told Senate estimates that she did not receive a Cartier watch herself, but is clearly in possession of a far more expensive timepiece that she has purchased.
The Serpenti Tubogas watch is billed as offering its owner the “sinuosity of the snake with the contemporary soul of tubogas” and “evoking both the sensual curves of a woman and the fluid shape of the serpent.”
Ms Holgate first raised eyebrows last year with her new wheels – an electric blue Range Rover with personalised “POSTY1” number plates.
RELATED: PM orders Aus Post CEO Christine Holgate to stand aside
For the high-flying former CEO of the year, who raked in $2.5 million from the government-owned business in 2019, the financial freedom to buy a nice car and an expensive watch is just another perk of the job.
But to her critics, the car – a gift from her husband, – was a worrying sign that Australia Post’s first female executive was also tone-deaf.
During an excruciating cross-examination with Labor’s Senator Kimberley Kitching on Thursday, Ms Holgate confirmed that view to her critics as she revealed several executives were awarded Cartier watches.
It went as follows:
KITCHING: And what was that award?
HOLGATE: They got watches.
KITCHING: And what were the watches?
HOLGATE: They were a Cartier watch of about a value of $3,000 each.
KITCHING: Four people got Cartier. Do you remember the brand, the type? Was it a Cartier Tank? What was it?
HOLGATE: I don’t recall. I didn’t actually purchase them. They were organised through my office on behalf of the Chair and I.
KITCHING: Okay. So, just to be clear, the four people who received Cartier watches was Mr Starr, you received one, Ms Holgate?
HOLGATE: No, I did not.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Ms Holgate’s claim that taxpayers’ money was not involved made Labor and it would appear, the Prime Minister, see red.
KITCHING: Do you, Ms Holgate, consider it appropriate to use taxpayers’ money to buy Cartier watches for already highly-remunerated Australia Post executives?
HOLGATE: I have not used taxpayers’ money. We are a commercial organisation. We do not receive government funding. We are a commercial organisation.
KITCHING: It is a government organisation.
HOLGATE: It was a recommendation from our Chair that these people get rewarded.
The former British business executive joined the government-owned business three years ago on October 30, 2017, but it’s unlikely she will be throwing a party to mark her third anniversary as she stands aside pending an investigation into the watches.
Perhaps, it is unsurprising then to learn that her background is largely in the private sector, including nearly nine years as the Chief Executive Officer of Blackmores Ltd.
She has enjoyed a glittering career marked by her appointment as the first female CEO in the history of Australia Post and the first woman awarded the “CEO of the Year” by the CEO Magazine.
But in 2011, she also provoked angry criticism when she suggested a deal between Blackmores and pharmacies could provide the “Coke and fries” with prescription drugs, giving them “a new and important revenue stream.”
The current furore follows a string of recent controversies including revelations Australia Post spent $700,000 on plants and the delivery of Pauline Hanson-branded stubby holders to public housing towers in September.
Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland slammed the decision and urged the Morrison Government to act.
“Australia Post is a cherished national institution and it must set a high standard,’’ she said.
“Today’s evidence that $12,000 was used on luxury watches does not meet that test.”
The Prime Minister’s response was more brutal.
Scott Morrison has bluntly told Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate if she doesn’t stand aside “she can go” after revelations that senior executives were awarded Cartier watches as a “bonus”.
Ms Holgate has now agreed to stand aside from her role.
In an extraordinary attack, Mr Morrison said he was disgusted by the abuse of taxpayers’ money.
“I was appalled and it is disgraceful and not on,” he said in Question Time today.
“We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people, is that the action was immediate, 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.”
A statement from Australia Post Chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo said the “Australia Post Board and management team will fully co-operate with the recently announced investigation to be conducted by shareholder departments.
“We remain committed to delivering for our important stakeholders – our people, our Post Office partners, our customers and the community.
“Group CEO & Managing Director Christine Holgate will stand aside during the investigation. During this time, Rodney Boys, Chief Financial Officer will be acting in the role.”