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

For Christine Holgate, the new patron saint of downtrodden female executives, it was all black and white.

At the Senate inquiry into her ousting as Australia Post chief yesterday, she and her supporters (and even former detractors) wore suffragette white as Holgate spectacularly painted her male enemies — from her former chairman to the prime minister — as blackest black.

Yet the air in the theatre that was yesterday was actually thick with grey — a fog of changing attitudes, differing perceptions, gender wars, secret government reports and, above all, the stench of hypocrisy from all sides of politics.

Invest in the journalism that makes a difference.

EOFY Sale. A year for just $99.

SAVE 50%

Indeed special shout-outs go to Labor’s Kimberley Kitching also in white — despite being responsible for sparking the whole Cartier watch outrage which led to Holgate’s demise — sports rorts “victim” Bridget McKenzie from the Nationals ,and the new feminist alliance now known simply as Pauline Hanson-Young.

It was a polished and commanding performance from Holgate, in stark contrast to her last disastrous appearance before the Senate on October 22 last year which was the catalyst for her downfall.

For her it was a chance to set the record straight, although some might argue it was more a chance at payback for what was at best a terrible case of unfair dismissal and at worst — in her own words — an epic case of bullying, humiliation, intimidation and lies that left her suicidal.

She did not hold back on her brutal demolition of Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo who she accused of lying and fabricating evidence. She then demanded he too must be sacked.

She also claimed he “curried favour “with his political bosses, and for good measure she damned the entire Liberal-stacked board, except for one independent exception, which raises the question why she hadn’t bothered about these directors’ dubious CVs which were widely known during her previously happy tenure.

Di Bartolomeo appeared before the inquiry in the afternoon, but his understated performance received far less attention than the saturation coverage of Holgate’s sensational testimony in the morning. He refused to resign or even apologise to Holgate even though he admitted she had been treated “abysmally” but, like much of yesterday, it was not clear just who was the culprit.

He seemed to try the gracious approach, heaping praise on Holgate as a “very good chief executive” which raises another question: why did he name her replacement the day before?

The one time he did seem to get fired up was when asked specifically about those damned Cartier watches. He said although Holgate had authority to award bonuses “that doesn’t mean she could do what she wants” and added: “She has to use her discretion with taxpayer funds.” In this case he thought it was not “appropriate”.

It summed up Holgate’s perceived mistakes and ones she admitted and apologised for again yesterday and also in her resignation letter of last November 2 — which is now a matter of dispute and, like so much else, even murkier after yesterday.

Despite three hours of testimony from Holgate and another hour from the chairman it was still not clear whether she had resigned, or even — as her arch defender Pauline Hanson suggested yesterday — whether she was still CEO. Even Holgate raised that prospect, pointing out she was still listed as such on the company’s website.

She now disowns her November 2 resignation letter to the board and seems to claim it was sent under duress which given evidence about her mental health during the ordeal sounds feasible.

However, it again falls into grey areas. In the four months since, she has never publicly disavowed the accompanying lengthy press release listing her reasons for resigning and which included these words: “I have no animosity towards the government and have enjoyed working with the prime minister.”

And just to confirm how much the prevailing winds have changed since then, her press release opened with the widely quoted vow: “I am not seeking any financial compensation.”

So it’s important to note a small quote at the end of her first television appearance in five months on last night’s 7.30 on the ABC where Laura Tingle asked her if she was “considering legal actions against Australia Post and others”.

“Possibly,” Holgate said, adding she hadn’t yet made a decision.

This saga is far from over.

What did you think of Holgate’s testimony? Write to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Save this EOFY while you make a difference

Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

We’ve pushed our journalism as far as we could go. And that’s only been possible with reader support. Thank you. And if you haven’t yet subscribed, this is your time to join tens of thousands of Crikey members to take the plunge.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
SAVE 50%