Christine Holgate before the Senate inquiry (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Australia Post’s former chief executive, Christine Holgate, has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo of launching a sexist campaign of bullying and harassment following revelations she had gifted $19,950 worth of luxury watches to senior executives.

Speaking at an inquiry this morning, Holgate questioned Morrison’s double standards by allowing ministers accused of rape, harassment and assault to remain in their roles while she was forced out of hers on his direction.

‘I was forced to stand down’

The watches were gifted as a bonus to four executives in 2018 for raising $22 million with banking services deals. When the gifts were revealed in Senate estimates last year, all hell broke loose. Morrison instructed Holgate to step aside during an investigation into the gifts, saying, “if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.

Holgate claims that, as a result of his comments, she was subject to a campaign of bullying and harassment which ultimately forced her out of the role.

“[Morrison] has people in members of parliament who have been accused of the most terrible atrocities to women, proven with one of them, and they’re allowed to stand and still remain in their jobs and represent our country,” Holgate said. “I was forced to stand down.”

She said the incident had impacted her health and had led to a campaign of harassment in the media with her being depicted as a sex worker.

Inquiry chair Senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked if Holgate had noted a “stark difference of treatment” towards her compared to members of Morrison’s government. When asked whether this was a gendered issue, Holgate said it partially was but stressed the real problem was bullying, harassment and abuse of power.

The watches, she admitted, didn’t “pass the pub test” although the gifts were legal and approved by Di Bartolomeo at the time. Neither Di Bartolomeo nor the board have faced the same scrutiny as Holgate.

Holgate didn’t hold back when asked about a comment calling Australia Post a commercial organisation (which she has apologised for).

“I really do hope you are not saying to me that I was hung in Parliament — humiliated, not just hung, run over by a bus and reversed on again — because, after four hours of a Senate process, I may have made a wrong comment when it would be perfectly okay to abuse women, and that would be acceptable,” she said.

‘Silenced’ during investigation

Before Holgate had a chance to tell her side of the story at the inquiry today, her replacement had already been announced. Woolworths supply chain head Paul Graham will be taking over the role from September.

Di Bartolomeo sent Holgate a letter in October warning her not to speak to other employees, customers or the media about the gifts. She said the investigation into her conduct was “biased”.

“This is the day the chairman of Australia Post and the other men involved in what happened to me will be held to account,” Holgate said.

Di Bartolomeo has denied Holgate’s claims that he unlawfully stood her down.

Double standards for mates?

Morrison has been accused of double standards when keeping those close to him in power. Then-defence minister Linda Reynolds retained her role despite her poor handling of former staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape, later calling her a “lying cow” (which Reynolds has since apologised for).

Former attorney-general Christian Porter was not asked to step aside so an investigation into allegations of historic rape could take place and was instead awarded the technology portfolio — an appointment slammed by stakeholders given his limited experience in the industry, and one that may deter women in tech engaging with the government.

Coalition MP ­Andrew Laming was also backed by Morrison after a spate of harassment allegations. Laming was referred to empathy training and praised by Morrison for not seeking reelection.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey