Australia Post board members Michael Ronaldson, Deidre Willmott and Tony Nutt (Images: AAP)

Australia Post is a standout example of all that can go wrong when governments corporatise an essential service.

CEO Christine Holgate has been stood aside after it was revealed in Senate hearings that she gave $3000 Cartier watches to four executives for, well, doing their job.

But it’s not only the CEO. Just look at the million-dollar-a-year board, stacked with ex-Liberal party staffers, politicians and barrackers.

Tony Nutt AO

Nutt has enjoyed a lifelong career as a Liberal party backroom operative, working as a federal and state director of the party. He was also principal adviser to former prime minister John Howard. Nutt was appointed to the Australia Post board in March 2018 for three years.

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(The Hon) Michael Ronaldson 

Ronaldson was a Liberal member of parliament for a total of 22 years, first as the member for Ballarat and then as a senator for Victoria. He finished up in February 2016 and was appointed to the Australia Post board in May 2016 for a six year term.

Bruce McIver 

McIver was president of the Liberal National Party of Queensland for seven years before resigning in the wake of the state LNP’s electoral wipeout in 2015. He was appointed to the Australia Post board later that year for a six year term.

Deidre Willmott

Willmott served as chief of staff to two West Australian Liberal premiers,  Richard Court and Colin Barnett. She was slated to be the Liberal candidate for the seat of Cottesloe in 2008 before withdrawing. Willmott was CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia before being appointed to the Australia Post board in 2017 for six years.

Nutt and Ronaldson were each paid $114,000 as non-executive directors last year. McIver and Willmott received $116,000 each in non-executive director fees. The board’s four other directors were paid similar fees.

Former board chairman John Stanhope, who says he has no recollection of the watches, was paid just on $208,000 last year. (Stanhope is not to be confused with the former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope.)

Holgate’s defence that money spent on watches wasn’t taxpayers’ money is so horribly off key that the government has had her stand aside while an investigation proceeds. But the watches aren’t the only examples of excess under the board’s tenure.

It was revealed earlier this month that Holgate had hired a $3000-a-day “reputation management” firm to counter the flak from an Australia Post decision to wind back mail delivery services during the pandemic and to win political influence.

Holgate, a former CEO of the vitamin and nutritional supplement company Blackmores, has earned more than $2.5 million in pay and bonuses as CEO of Australia Post, and has reportedly spent about $300,000 on corporate credit cards and chauffeur-driven cars over a 12-month period.

According to Greg Rayner, the national secretary of the CEPU communications union, Australia Post’s problems go “far deeper than watches”.

“This largesse is a symptom of broader problems at Australia Post and how management is out of touch with workers,” he said yesterday, amid Australia Post warnings that people should send Christmas gifts six weeks early as it deals with backlogs at delivery centres.