Australian women urged to wear white today to mark their respect; licensed post offices around the country pausing for a minute’s silence to show their support — welcome to the weird world of the martyrisation of corporate executive Christine Holgate.
Right down to the eve of the keenly watched Senate inquiry showdown between the former Australia Post CEO and its current chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo, the soap opera continued.
The whole point of the Senate inquiry, instigated by Holgate supporter Pauline Hanson, was presumably to right the wrong of her ousting. So the chairman’s decision to announce her replacement, former Woolworths executive Paul Graham, on the eve of their appearance at the inquiry only fuelled further outrage.
While the conflicting evidence will no doubt be more riveting than illuminating, we should perhaps put the whole thing into a bit of context. After all, a boardroom battle between a chair and dumped CEO is not usually the stuff of such widespread and popular uprisings.
But this one has forged unlikely alliances. With Scott Morrison as the chief villain it was always going to get ugly but this time you not only have Labor siding with Hanson but even Murdoch’s misogynist male columnists joining the Holgate martyr brigade.
Let’s start with what sparked it all: Holgate’s disastrous last appearance before the Senate in October last year.
It was here, in the heat of pandemic austerity, sporting her own $40,000 Bulgari timepiece, that she revealed she had rewarded four senior executives with four Cartier watches worth $3000 each.
But for many seasoned political and business observers it was her next comments that really sealed her fate, when Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching asked her whether it was “appropriate to use taxpayers’ money to buy Cartier watches for already highly-remunerated Australia Post executives”?
“I have not used taxpayers’ money,” Holgate replied. “We are a commercial organisation. We do not receive government funding.”
Senator Kitching was forced to remind her that it was in fact a government organisation.
It was reportedly that last part of the exchange that was the final straw for Morrison, who had been watching in his office and rushed to the floor of Parliament where he delivered his tirade.
“I was appalled. It’s disgraceful and it’s not on,” he said, adding the chief executive had been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t wish to do that “she can go”.
And she did. Less than two weeks later she announced her resignation from the $1.4 million role and even told how she would not seek any “financial compensation” and admitted the “optics” of the Cartier watch purchase did not pass the “pub test” for many Australians.
The latest cause célèbre
But Holgate has powerful supporters and within four months she had become a cause célèbre for everyone from Pauline Hanson to the Licensed Post Offices association and even the emboldened female anti-bullying lobby.
Let’s just recall for a minute the story behind the Hanson-Holgate alliance. In July last year One Nation had posted 100 stubby holders to a North Melbourne public house tower just days after Senator Hanson had referred to the 3000 locked-down tower residents as “alcoholics” and “drug addicts”. They were accompanied with a handwritten note that read “no hard feelings”.
Government and health officials refused to distribute them for fear it would inflame an already dangerous situation within the building, but the AusPost CEO reportedly personally intervened and even threatened to get police involved if they were not delivered.
It emerged that Holgate was again wooing Hanson a few weeks later with a “red carpet” guided tour of post office facilities in an effort to win One Nation’s crucial vote over the timing of daily postal services.
Perhaps this should be recalled today by those who read the “WearWhite2Unite” ads comparing Holgate’s struggle with the suffragettes of last century.
Even more bizarre is the website that has a picture of Holgate in white above the headline “Stamp out workplace bullying”. Some might think an entitled corporate executive should hardly be equated with the genuine victims of serious workplace bullying and harassment.
Chauffeur-driven cars and beauty sessions
Let’s not even get into the official report into Holgate’s time at AusPost, with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of (yes) taxpayers’ money spent on everything from chauffeur-driven cars to hair and beauty sessions for her myriad media appearances.
And then there was the $34,000 for the Sydney-based Holgate to stay at the five-star Grand Hyatt hotel during her regular visits to Melbourne. Let’s look at her own words in a gushing interview with the AFR’s Boss magazine in October 2018 about her “home away from home”.
“It’s fantastic. I got home at 9.30 last night and I wanted something to eat and they made me a cheese toastie,” she said.
“I want my laundry done. I call them in the morning and say ‘could you do my laundry today?’.”
Gosh. A five-star hotel doing all that. Incredible, really, from a woman who lives in a $5 million home and was credited with the international success of Blackmores in her previous CEO role.
Perhaps those making her a martyr today should put it all in perspective.
Just because Scott Morrison threw a female under the bus while protecting even more controversial and incompetent males in his own ranks does not mean she should be portrayed as a victim.
It simply means the blokes should have gone first.
Is Christine Holgate a worthy martyr, or do activists need to find another figurehead? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.