Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate
Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Last Friday was a busy news day. While all eyes were on the prospect of Australians losing Google search, and the predictable Australia Day culture wars, the government released a report into former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate’s controversial gold Cartier watch bonuses.

Last year’s revelations that Holgate gave out bonuses to Australia Post executives in the form of gold Cartier watches (worth a total of $20,000) outraged the prime minister. But, as expected, the report seems to let Holgate off the hook — somewhat.

What the report says

The outcome of a four-week probe conducted by law firm Maddocks, the report makes some key findings that are very favourable to Holgate.

It concludes there was “no indication of dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds by any individual involved in matters relating” to the watches.

But Holgate isn’t totally absolved either. While she previously claimed buying the watches was within Australia Post’s “gifts and remuneration” policy, the report identifies “no policy which supports gifts such as watches being made to executives”.

The board “did not consider or approve the purchase of the watches”, the report concludes, and board members who were interviewed during the inquiry all agreed that the watches were an inappropriate form of executive bonus. 

There was “contradictory evidence” over whether Holgate had informed former Australia Post chair John Stanhope about her decision to buy the watches. Either way, the report also found the purchase inconsistent with statutory obligations imposed on the board regarding the proper use and management of public resources. 

And beyond the watches, there are other troubling findings for Holgate. Based on a “limited” review of credit card usage records, the report concludes there may be other instances of credit card usage potentially inconsistent with public expectations and AusPost policies.

Today, The Herald Sun revealed a long list of further extravagances from the Holgate years. These include a $2095 Montblanc pen for Stanhope’s retirement present, gifts from Louis Vuitton, AFL grand final tickets and over $200,000 on the CEO’s private car service.

What it says about the government

While the report’s conclusions are blurry, they don’t really support Scott Morrison’s fiery claims from last year when he described Holgate’s behaviour as “disgraceful”.

That anger from the prime minister contributed to Holgate’s decision to resign. She claimed no wrongdoing but acknowledging her behaviour did not pass the “pub test”.

Holgate’s own words are probably the most accurate summary of what the report tells us. There was no obvious wrongdoing, but a pattern of spending and lack of accountability that would probably rub the regular punter the wrong way.

That’s also probably why the government was so reluctant to release the report. The quiet release was the second backflip — right before Christmas, the government reneged on an earlier promise to disclose a redacted version of the report.

There have been a string of recent reports which the government has kept shelved. Most prominently, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Phil Gaetjens’ probe into the sports rorts — which seems to produce far more favourable conclusions for the government than the Audit Office’s analysis — has never been released.

So it’s notable that the Holgate report did get to see the light of day. But when it did, it came after 4pm on a Friday packed with bigger news. It’s hard not to conclude the government weren’t entirely comfortable with what it saw.