This chapter outlines the major events that preceded and followed Ms Christine Holgate's offer to resign from the position of Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director (CEO) of Australia Post in November 2020.
It provides a detailed, chronological list of relevant events, correspondence, public statements and announcements, but it is not a complete record. For instance, evidence relating to Ms Holgate's frame of mind, her detailed communications with Australia Post executives and Board members, and issues that are disputed, are not included in this timeline. Further detail on these points, and additional correspondence and evidence, are explored later in this report.
Events leading to Ms Holgate's resignation
21 November 2018
On 21 November 2018, four Cartier watches worth a total of approximately $20 000 were given to four senior managers at Australia Post (watch recipients), by Ms Holgate. The watch recipients were:
Mr Gary Starr, Executive General Manager Business and Government;
Mr Greg Sutherland, General Manager Business Development;
Ms Anna Bennet, Strategy Manager; and
Ms Deanne Keetelaar, General Manager Financial Services.
The watches related to the work performed and outcomes achieved by the Bank@Post Refresh team. As detailed in Chapter 5, the extent to which the former Chair and Board were aware of these purchases is contested.
22 October 2020
Thursday 22 October 2020 was a sitting day in the House of Representatives, and the Senate was conducting Budget Estimates hearings. The Australian Government (government) was facing considerable pressure over a number of integrity issues that had been raised during Senate Estimates hearings that week, including the Leppington Triangle airport deal, the launch of an investigation against the Chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), and progress on the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission.
The Leppington Triangle airport deal involved the 2018 purchase by the Commonwealth of a 12-hectare plot of land, near the Western Sydney airport for $29.8 million. The land was valued a year later at $3 million. An investigation by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) 'was scathing of how the Commonwealth handled the deal', and the Auditor-General, Mr Grant Hehir, confirmed before Senate Estimates that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had been engaged to investigate whether 'fraud may have been involved' in the sale.
The government faced considerable pressure during the week in relation to the Leppington Triangle deal, the ANAO report, and the ongoing AFP investigation; including questions on the floor of parliament, questions from the press, and an attempt to suspend standing orders. On Tuesday 20 October, Ms Catherine King MP, Member for Ballarat, sought and was denied leave to move a motion calling on 'the Minister for Infrastructure to attend the House and explain all he knows about this dirty deal and why he says it's a "bargain"'. Ms King's attempt to suspend standing orders was ultimately unsuccessful.
The Leppington Triangle deal revelations increased already mounting pressure on the government to accelerate the stalled process of establishing a federal anti-corruption commission.
Also during this week, pressure was mounting on the Chair of ASIC, Mr James Shipton. Concerns were raised about the findings of an ANAO investigation into relocation and other expenses incurred on his behalf, on his appointment and return to Australia from the United States, and on behalf of the then Deputy Chair, Mr Daniel Crennan, 'following an agreement that he move from Melbourne to Sydney'. The ANAO had audited ASIC's financial statements, and 'stated a belief that the total remuneration paid to both office holders may exceed the limits set within the relevant remuneration tribunal determinations'. A formal investigation into the matter was to be announced on 23 October 2020, the day after Ms Holgate's standing aside. The difference in the government's approaches to these two matters is discussed in Chapter 6.
The week leading into Budget Estimates, Coalition 'talking points' on a Commonwealth Integrity Commission were reportedly accidentally released to the media by the government. The talking points revealed that legislation to establish a 'federal ICAC' had been 'ready' prior to COVID-19, and that the government intended to progress the legislation '"as soon as possible" after COVID-19 recovery efforts'.
Shadow Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus MP, was critical of the delay in introducing legislation, and argued that the unprecedented spending due to COVID-19 meant, '[t]here's never been a greater need for an anti-corruption commission'.
The following week, the government faced questions on the floor of parliament, as well as in Senate Estimates hearings, linking the 'slow progress' on a federal ICAC to 'recent scandals', including the Leppington Triangle deal.
On 20 October 2020, the Grattan Institute reported the continuation of a year‑on‑year trend, starting in 2010, of cuts to the ANAO's budget, and suggested 'accountability isn't high on [the government's] list of priorities'.
The then Attorney-General, the Hon Christian Porter MP, defended the government's timeline and approach to establishing an integrity commission, saying:
[We]…were not inclined to commence and conduct a detailed and extensive national consultation process while most of Australia and, more recently, a large and critical state were still struggling to contain the COVID-19 virus. That sort of consultation around draft legislation is going to be critical… In this budget, $9.9 million was allocated to that first stage of the development of this process… But these issues are going to require detailed consultation, and that consultation will follow.
Australia Post Senate Estimates appearance
In the midst of this volatile political context, Australia Post appeared before the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee on the morning of 22 October 2020. The CEO, Ms Holgate answered questions on parliamentary privilege, the Alternative Delivery Model, procurement, and staffing levels, then, at approximately 11.20 am, Ms Holgate was questioned about the Bank@Post deal and rewards provided to executives for their work on the deal. Senator Kitching asked Ms Holgate:
Ms Holgate, did you reward the team who worked on the agreement?
Ms Holgate: There were a small number of senior people who'd put an inordinate amount of work in and they did receive an award from me and the chair, on behalf of the board.
Senator KITCHING: What was that award?
Ms Holgate: They got watches.
Senator KITCHING: What were the watches?
Ms Holgate: They were a Cartier watch of about a value of $3,000 each.
Senator KITCHING: So how many watches did you buy?
Ms Holgate: If I recall correctly, and Gary may recall, I think it was four people.
Senator KITCHING: Four people got Cartier—do you remember the brand or the type? Was it a Cartier Tank or what was it?
Ms Holgate: I don't recall. I didn't actually purchase them. They were organised through my office on behalf the chair and me.
Senator KITCHING: And was that purchased on the corporate credit card of—in the name of the office of the CEO?
Ms Holgate: I don't recall, Senator. I'm happy to take it on notice.
Senator Kitching asked Ms Holgate if she considered it 'appropriate to use taxpayers' money to buy Cartier watches for already highly remunerated Australia Post executives'. Ms Holgate responded:
I have not used taxpayers' money. We are a commercial organisation… We do not receive Australian government funding. We are a commercial organisation and it was…a recommendation from our Chair that these people get rewarded.
Statements by Minister Fletcher and the Prime Minister in Question Time
Australia Post concluded its evidence around 12.52 pm. Evidence submitted to the inquiry shows that Ms Holgate, people from Australia Post, and members of the Board reached out to government ministers, their staff and departmental representatives numerous times in relation to the matter. These attempts are discussed later.
In Question Time following Senate Estimates, at 2.29 pm, the Shadow Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP, directed the following question to the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts (the Communications Minister):
Why was $12,000 of taxpayers' money spent on four Cartier watches for Australia Post executives?
The Communications Minister, responded:
I do thank the shadow minister for her question. I was as shocked and concerned as everybody else to discover this when it was revealed in estimates this morning. I have spoken to the chair of Australia Post. I've explained that the government's view is that the boards and management of government business enterprises need to take great care with taxpayers' money. They need to take great care with taxpayers' money. I have informed the chair of Australia Post that the shareholder…ministers have asked our respective departments to carry out an investigation into this matter, and I've asked the chair to provide the full support of the company for this investigation. I've also asked the chair to inform the chief executive that she will be asked to stand aside during the course of this investigation. This is a matter which the government takes very seriously.
The Minister was asked by interjection, 'What about the board?', and responded:
We expect the boards and management of government business enterprises to deal with taxpayers' money with scrupulous care, and that is what this investigation will be focused on, and it will examine the conduct of all involved in how this matter occurred.
At 2.34 pm, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, Leader of the Opposition, asked the Communications Minister when he first learned about the purchase of the watches. Minister Fletcher replied; 'when it was revealed in estimates this morning'.
At 2.39 pm, Mr Albanese directed this question to the Prime Minister:
How is it that on his watch, in the middle of the worst recession in almost a century, with one million Australians unemployed, businesses collapsing and a trillion dollars of Liberal debt, this government is taking no action against the Liberal-appointed Australia Post board, which spent $12,000 of taxpayers' money on Cartier watches?
The Prime Minister responded:
The accusation that the Leader of the Opposition just levelled against the government is false. Earlier today, when this was brought to my attention by the report of Senate estimates, I was appalled. It's disgraceful and it's not on. And so immediately I spoke with the shareholding minister, the Minister for Finance, and the minister responsible, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, and from those discussions the following actions ensued: that there had to be an independent investigation done by the department, not by Australia Post; that the chief executive should stand aside immediately; and that the independent investigation should look into the conduct of the board members and their governance as well as the actions of the management and the executive. That report will come back to me and the members of my cabinet, and if there are issues to be addressed with board members then they will be addressed then.
This all happened within an hour. So appalled and shocked was I by that behaviour—any shareholder would in a company raise their outrage if they had seen that conduct by a chief executive, a management or a board; they would insist rightly on the same thing. Now, we are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people, so that action was immediate. The chief executive has been instructed to stand aside and, if she doesn't wish to do that, she can go.
Announcements by the Shareholder Ministers and Australia Post
At approximately 5.25 pm, the Shareholder Ministers jointly announced:
We have instructed the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, together with the Department of Finance, to conduct a formal investigation into the matter.
The investigation by the shareholder departments will be supported by an external law firm.
We expect this investigation to commence immediately, and to be completed within four weeks… The Chief Executive of Australia Post will be standing aside from her position for the duration of the investigation.
Then sometime between 7.00 pm and 7.40 pm (the timing is contested), a media release from Australia Post Chair, Mr Lucio Di Bartolomeo, stated:
The Australia Post Board and management team will fully cooperate with the recently announced investigation to be conducted by shareholder departments… Group CEO & Managing Director Christine Holgate will stand aside during the investigation. During this time, Rodney Boys, Chief Financial Officer will be acting in the role.
Australia Post email to staff
At approximately 8.04 pm, an email was sent by Australia Post to 'all Australia Post people (including Ms Holgate)', on behalf of the Chair. The Chair's message to Australia Post personnel said:
I understand today may have been difficult and uncertain for many of you.
As you will have heard, this afternoon our Shareholder Minister Paul Fletcher announced a formal investigation into the gifts given to four senior managers in 2018. This investigation will begin immediately.
Group CEO & Managing Director Christine Holgate will stand aside while this investigation is being conducted. I would like to confirm Rodney Boys, Group Chief Financial Officer will be acting in the role during this time.
I appreciate there will be many questions and would like to assure you that when more information is available, it will be shared as soon as possible.
In the interim, I thank you and ask you to keep focused on the great work we do delivering for Australia.
23 October 2020
Australia Post released a statement clarifying the cost of the watches (initially stated to be around $12 000). The watches cost $7000, $4750, $4400 and $3800; a total spend of $19 950, including GST.
24 October 2020
Australia Post wrote to Ms Holgate 'confirming her agreement to stand aside, and associated arrangements'. The letter states that the Shareholder 'has expressed the view that you should stand aside pending an independent investigation in relation to [the purchase of the watches]'; and that Australia Post 'takes the views expressed by our Shareholder very seriously', and intends to fully cooperate with the Shareholder during the investigation.
The letter, signed by the Chair, further states:
This letter confirms my recent discussions with you that you agreed to stand aside effective Thursday afternoon [22 October 2020], pending the outcome of the Shareholder 's investigation and any further action taken by Australia Post. As part of this arrangement:
Your remuneration will continue and you will remain bound by all the terms and conditions of your employment with Australia Post.
You will not be required to attend the workplace or carry out any of your ordinary work duties except if directed by me.
You should not have any work-related communications with any directors, officers, employees, contractors, agents or customers of Australia Post, without first consulting with [name redacted].
Further paragraphs detail specific arrangements in relation to access to the information technology network, emails and correspondence, allocation of
Ms Holgate's responsibilities to other executives, and points of contact for
Ms Holgate while she is stood aside.
The letter also states that Ms Holgate 'will be required to cooperate with Australia Post and the Shareholder in relation to its investigation, including attending interviews; and that she will be 'required to maintain confidentiality in relation to the investigation process'.
26 October 2020
The Shareholder Departments published terms of reference for the investigation into Australia Post. The terms of reference stated that Shareholder Departments would:
…undertake an investigation into Australia Post's governance arrangements and corporate culture concerning the proper use and management of public resources, in relation to gifts, rewards and expenses, including personal expenses of executives. The investigation will determine whether Australia Post has expended money ethically and acted in a manner expected of a Government Business Enterprise.
Specifically the investigation will determine:
The facts around an incident involving the provision of wristwatches to Australia Post staff in late 2018;
The role of the then Australia Post Chair and Board, and the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer in the incident;
Whether there are other instances in Australia Post inconsistent with appropriate behaviour for a GBE that require further investigation;
Whether this incident or other instances (including the actions of those involved) are consistent with:
the obligations of Directors and Chief Executives of Government Business Enterprises; and
the efficient, effective, economical and ethical expenditure of money and use of public resources.
The extent to which Australia Post 's governance arrangements and management culture, in particular in relation to gifts, rewards and expenses, including personal expenses of executives:
supports the efficient, effective, economical and ethical management of resources;
meets the expectations of the public around the leadership and governance of Australia Post as a public institution; and
requires further investigation or review.
A report is to be provided to Government within four weeks of the investigation commencement.
27 October 2020
Australia Post received a letter from Ms Holgate's lawyer, Mr Bryan Belling, asserting that 'Ms Holgate had expressly not agreed to stand aside'. The letter is provided as part of Ms Holgate's submission and states:
Our client has expressly not agreed to stand aside as your letter suggests and has been reported widely in the media.
She did suggest she take annual leave but that was not agreed by you. She has also stated she will fully support any fair investigation. Our instructions are that you committed to give her a letter requesting her to stand down and why you wanted her to, as the employee policy indicates.
Any standdown directed by shareholders is of no force and effect as shareholders do not have standing to give such a direction. Any attempt to give effect to such a direction will be improper… In the event Ms Holgate is to stand aside she requires a lawful and reasonable direction from the Board to do so.
The letter further states that Ms Holgate will cooperate with 'a properly constituted investigation'. However, it raises concerns about the involvement of the Shareholder Ministers in apparently instructing the Board to stand Ms Holgate aside, and that the investigation is being undertaken by the Shareholder Departments, not by Australia Post, and argues for an independent investigation, which Mr Belling proposed was 'properly a matter for the governing body of Australia Post, namely the Board'.
28 October 2020
Ms Holgate wrote again to Australia Post, through her lawyer. This letter raised additional issues to do with executive remuneration, and states:
Ms Holgate still has not been informed by you what she is accused of having done wrong. Our client is extremely disappointed by a lack of support, response and follow up to her. Moreover, any process undertaken at the behest of the shareholder ministers in the events as have happened lead to our client holding grave concerns that she can trust that any response or process can be fair.
29 October 2020
The Department of Finance engaged the law firm Maddocks to 'support the investigation'.
Also on this date, the Chair of Australia Post responded to the 27 October 2020 letter from Ms Holgate's lawyer. This letter 'reiterated that Ms Holgate had agreed on 22 October 2020 to stand aside and that the Chair had communicated that agreement to the Board'.
This letter reiterated the arrangements detailed in the Chair's letter of 24 October 2020, repeated the expectation that Ms Holgate would cooperate with the investigation and maintain confidentiality, and provided a copy of the terms of reference for the investigation.
Public statement from Ms Holgate
On 29 October 2020, Ms Holgate's lawyer released a public statement on her behalf:
I act for Christine Holgate.
Ms Holgate will fully support a fair investigation.
However, it is now exactly seven days since Ms Holgate was the subject of a humiliating answer during Question Time. In that time Ms Holgate has not had any proper notification that she has been stood down from her role, nor has she been informed as to why she should be stood down, nor has she had any communication regarding what the investigation into Australia Post from either the Board or the Government.
It is incumbent on the Board to formally notify Ms Holgate that she has been stood down, and this notification must stipulate the grounds for this action. This is the case under general employment law, as well as the specifics of Australia Post's own employment regulations. The Board has failed to do so. Legally, in my opinion there are no grounds for Ms Holgate to be stood down, and 'optics' is not a legally-valid defence.
I have taken the step of releasing this statement because within the past week I have written to the Board and again separately to the Chairman of Australia Post and have not received a response in terms.
I have no option but to publish this statement in the interests of my client.
Ms Holgate's resignation
2 November 2020
At 10.46 am, Ms Holgate sent an email to the Australia Post Board with an attached letter entitled 'Offer of Resignation', and a document entitled 'Christine Holgate Offers Resignation Statement'. In the letter, Ms Holgate stated:
Regrettably, given the recent events, I have come to the view that my continuation as Chief Executive [is] untenable.
I have done no wrong, but I believe the current situation is not in the best interests of the organisation, our customers, our people or my own health.
Consequently, I am offering to resign as both Chief Executive and as a Director with immediate effect. I do not seek my financial compensation.
The terms of the investigation are now to hand and notwithstanding my resignation I am available to participate in it.
It has been an honour and a privilege to serve Australia Post and I am disappointed that I am unable to continue in my role.
This must come to an end today so I would appreciate if you could give me your favourable response. I attach a copy of an external statement which I will be releasing at 2pm, in any event.
The attached document features the heading, 'Christine Holgate Offers Resignation as CEO of Australia Post'. This statement includes the following:
I have offered today the Chairman and Board of Australia Post, with great sadness, my resignation as Chief Executive with immediate effect. I am not seeking any financial compensation…
Philosophically, I believe if you want to drive positive change, you need to thank and reward positive behaviours.
However, I deeply regret that a decision made two years ago, which was supported by the Chair, to recognise the outstanding work of four employees has caused so much debate and distraction and I appreciate the optics of the gifts involved do not pass the 'pub test' for many…
I will make myself readily available to participate in the investigation of this matter and any other issues of possible concern.
I have no animosity towards the Government and have enjoyed working with the Prime Minister, the Shareholder Ministers and many other political leaders during my tenure…
I have made this difficult decision to leave to enable Australia Post to be able to fully focus on delivering for our customers.
My sincere apologies if my words or actions have offended others as this would never have been my intention because I have always held Australia Post in the greatest regard.
Australia Post is growing and now has a strong viable future where our Community Post Offices can flourish, our Posties and delivery teams maintain their roles, communities secure ongoing services and one which can support the economic recovery of our country.
The Chair of the Board, Mr Di Bartolomeo called a Deputy Secretary of the Department of Finance, Mr Andrew Jaggers at 11.35 am. After calling
then-Group Chief Financial Officer at Australia Post, Mr Rodney Boys (who would later that day take over as acting CEO) at 11.46 am, Mr Di Bartolomeo called the Chief of Staff to the Communications Minister, Mr Ryan Bloxsom, at 11.54 am. The Chair forwarded to both Mr Bloxsom and Mr Jaggers the 10.46 am email from Ms Holgate in which she offered to resign.
At approximately 2.05 pm, during a Sky News broadcast, Sky News Political Editor Mr Andrew Clennell announced that he was 'hearing speculation' that Ms Holgate was about to resign. Mr Clennell said:
…look I'm hearing speculation…that Christine Holgate, the CEO of Australia Post, is about to resign. That their statement is expected this afternoon with her resignation. Yet to get confirmation of that…
At approximately 2.20 pm, Ms Holgate states that she gave a copy of her resignation statement to communications consultant Mr Ross Thornton, publicly announcing her resignation. Australia Post submitted that Ms Holgate issued the public statement announcing her resignation at approximately 2.00 pm. These conflicting claims are explored in Chapter 7.
At approximately 3.15 pm, Australia Post published the following statement on its website from the Chair:
On behalf of the Board of Directors of Australia Post, I wish to advise that Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Christine Holgate resigned today.
Her resignation is effective immediately.
At approximately 3.30 pm, Australia Post sent a message to employees, contractors, licensees, and others, advising that Ms Holgate had resigned, 'effective immediately'.
At 5.08 pm, the Shareholder Ministers jointly announced:
We acknowledge that the Australia Post Board has today accepted the resignation of Christine Holgate as CEO and a director, effective immediately.
Events following Ms Holgate's resignation
This section lists only major events and correspondence following Ms Holgate's resignation. It is not a complete record. Further evidence is detailed and discussed in the chapters that follow.
2 November 2020
At 4.13 pm, the Chair wrote to Ms Holgate to accept her offer of resignation. The letter states:
Thank you for your letter today advising the Board that you have resigned as both Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Australia Post.
While noting the current review, I would like to acknowledge the significant contributions that you have made during your tenure.
Australia Post accepts your offer that your resignation will take effect immediately (today) and you will not receive a payment in lieu of notice or any other financial compensation from Australia Post. In accordance with your contract of employment, please sign below to vary the contract of employment to give effect to this agreement.
Please see enclosed a public statement that Australia Post has issued regarding your resignation. On behalf of the Board, I wish you all the very best for the future.
The letter included a statement that Ms Holgate was to sign and return to vary her contract, as follows:
I, Christine Holgate, agree that my resignation will take effect immediately (today) and I will not receive a payment in lieu of notice or any other financial compensation from Australia Post.
Christine Holgate Date:………..
Ms Holgate did not sign or return the statement at this stage, or any later stage. This issue is discussed further in subsequent chapters.
3 November 2020
Australia Post sent Ms Holgate a copy of the proof Hansard from the Budget Estimates hearing on 22 October 2020 and asked her to provide any corrections by the close of business on 4 November 2020.
Ms Holgate received a call from Communications Minister,
the Hon Paul Fletcher MP. Ms Holgate submitted that Minister Fletcher thanked her for her service.
4 November 2020
Ms Holgate received a letter from Australia Post (signed by the General Counsel) advising her that Maddocks would soon seek to interview her. According to Ms Holgate, the letter stipulated that she would 'be able to get access to files' she needed to participate, and that Maddocks would review all of her emails 'since joining the organisation'.
5 November 2020
Ms Holgate states that her email access at Australia Post was withdrawn at approximately 1.00 pm.
At 2.51 pm, Australia Post's Communications Team sent an email message out to all Australia Post people entitled, 'Farewell from Christine', in response to a 2 November 2020 request from Ms Holgate. The message included the following statements:
On Monday I offered the Chairman and Board of Australia Post, with great sadness, my resignation as Chief Executive with immediate effect…
I have had the privilege to lead our incredible team at Australia Post for three years…
I leave the company knowing you are in a strong position to deal with the coming Christmas and the ongoing challenges of the eCommerce revolution.
I leave knowing Australia Post is growing and has a strong viable future ahead…
9 November 2020
Australia Post, including its Chair, Mr Di Bartolomeo, attended Senate Estimates and responded to numerous questions relating to Ms Holgate's standing aside and resignation, among other matters. The veracity of Mr Di Bartolomeo's evidence is addressed in Chapter 2.
10 November 2020
Australia Post wrote to Ms Holgate again requesting that she sign a statement that would give effect to the variation of her contract. The letter detailed the final payment Australia Post was to make to Ms Holgate on 10 November 2020, paying out her leave and other entitlements. Ms Holgate was requested to sign the following statement:
I, Christine Holgate, agree that the amounts set out in this letter are the only amounts that are owed to me by Australia Post and I will not receive a payment in lieu of notice or any other financial compensation from Australia Post.
Ms Holgate did not sign the contract variation.
11 November 2020
Ms Holgate was interviewed by Maddocks for the investigation. The interview was attended by Ms Holgate with her lawyer, Mr Belling, and Ms Sue Davies, Executive General Manager of People and Culture at Australia Post (as Ms Holgate's support person). Ms Holgate states the 'interview was over 4.5 hours long'.
18 November 2020
Ms Holgate was asked to review 'the first draft of Maddocks' findings'. Ms Holgate states that she was given only those pages referring to herself to review.
20 November 2020
Ms Holgate states that she was 'informed the investigation was complete', that she 'would not be entitled to see a copy of any final report', and that 'further questions should go to the two shareholder departments'.
23 November 2020
Ms Holgate wrote to Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance, after confirming by text message in the previous days that he was willing to speak with her. Ms Holgate outlined concerns about her treatment in detailed correspondence to the Minister.
25 November 2020
Minister Birmingham called Ms Holgate at 9.00 am. Ms Holgate submits that they spoke for approximately 45 minutes and the Minister suggested she forward her correspondence to Minister Fletcher and that the three of them meet to discuss a resolution. Ms Holgate sent the correspondence to
Minister Fletcher, and submits that she received no response.
2 December 2020
As stated above, Ms Holgate was informed that the Maddocks investigation was complete on 20 November 2020. However, the report was not made public at this time, and Ms Holgate was not allowed to see the full report. Ms Holgate wrote to the Shareholder Ministers, through her lawyer, noting that the Maddocks report had found 'that there was no indication of dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds'; and requesting that, 'in order to mitigate any further reputational damage' to Ms Holgate, the government release the report in full, or make a statement such as the following no later than 14 December 2020:
The Shareholder Ministers have received the cabinet-in-confidence independent investigation report. The report concluded that Ms Holgate acted at all times honestly, without personal gain and that she did not breach any policy in place in the organisation facilitating the reward and recognition to certain senior executives in celebration of the Bank@Post outcome. Ms Holgate ran the business of Australia Post well and we thank her for her service and wish her well.
Ms Holgate submits that she received no response to this letter.
8 December 2020
Ms Holgate's lawyer wrote to Allens Linklaters, lawyers representing Australia Post, stating that, 'the employment relationship, but not the employment contract, may have ended'. The letter is not provided in evidence. However, according to Ms Holgate, it said:
…[Ms Holgate] did not sign the agreement, nor did she support it or return it. All other things being equal, post-employment obligations still apply. The very fact that Australia Post has not honoured the contract, would suggest they are in [breach].
Ms Holgate under the contract of employment is subject to certain restraints. Restrictions on Ms Holgate's ability to work, which absent payment as contractually contemplated, would constitute an unreasonable restrain of her trade. As such the options appear to be:
Payment in consideration for restraining her competition; or
A release from those restraints which restrict her ability to earn a living.
It would be appropriate to come to terms with respect to these issues as soon as practicable and in any event before 10th December 2020.
9 December 2020
Australia Post sent Ms Holgate a spreadsheet listing expenses incurred during her time as CEO, and sought her comment and sign off. Ms Holgate submitted that the task was made technically difficult and the timeframe was impossible to meet. Over the coming weeks, Ms Holgate states that she and her lawyer negotiated better access to documents and resources allowing her to respond to requests for information about expenditure.
8 January 2021
Ms Holgate submitted that she conducted an 'extensive' phone call with Australia Post Director, Mr Tony Nutt, 'lasting for more than three hours'. Ms Holgate submitted that Mr Nutt 'sought permission from the Board to have this call', and that, following the call Mr Nutt acted as an advocate for Ms Holgate in relation to 'securing more reasonable deadlines to some of the onerous tasks Australia Post kept asking of [her]'. The involvement of Mr Nutt is further discussed later in the report.
22 January 2021
The Shareholder Departments publicly released the Maddocks report, Investigation into the proper use of public resources at Australia Post.
5 March 2021
Minister Fletcher announced that Mr Nutt was reappointed as a
Non-Executive Director of the Australia Post Board for a further three-year term.
12 April 2021
The day before this committee was due to hold its public hearing for the Australia Post inquiry, at which Ms Holgate was scheduled to give evidence, the Minister for Communications announced the appointment of Ms Holgate's replacement. The media release from Minister Fletcher states:
The Government welcomes the appointment of Mr Paul Graham as the new Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director (CEO) of Australia Post…
Shareholder Ministers for Australia Post, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP and Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, welcomed the appointment of Mr Graham.
'We trust Mr Graham will provide strong direction and leadership as Australia Post continues to deliver record numbers of parcels, even with border closures and ongoing logistical challenges,' Minister Fletcher and Minister Birmingham said...
'We would also like to thank Ms Christine Holgate once again for her service to Australia Post.'
Mr Graham will commence in the role by September 2021. Mr Rodney Boys will continue to act as interim CEO until Mr Graham takes up his new position.
22 April 2021
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Ms Holgate had engaged top Sydney barrister, Mr Arthur Moses SC, and defamation lawyer, Ms Rebekah Giles, a specialist in 'reputational risk', to assist her to resolve her dispute with Australia Post.
The article states that Ms Giles had written to the Board 'proposing they attend a mediation session with Ms Holgate, to be overseen by a retired judge'. The Shareholder Ministers have also been invited to attend, but have reportedly declined, saying: 'Issues concerning Ms Holgate's employment and resignation are matters for her and Australia Post'. Australia Post reportedly 'confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment'.
3 May 2021
Ms Holgate's legal representative, Ms Rebekah Giles, issued a media statement stating that Australia Post and Shareholder Ministers had advised that they would not be able to conduct mediation by Ms Holgate's preferred deadline, Wednesday, 5 May 2021:
We offered Australia Post and the government ministers a two-week window to conduct this mediation in order to minimise the ongoing harm that has been caused to Ms Holgate as well as the distraction to Australia Post which ultimately must focus on its important service to the public and its obligations to its employees and operators.
Given there appears to be an absence of agreement to mediate this matter expeditiously, Ms Holgate will now have no option but to consider her legal options after the [Senate inquiry] report into these matters is released on May 17.
In response to questioning about the mediation on 3 May 2021, Mr Di Bartolomeo and Mr Nick Macdonald, Australia Post General Counsel, confirmed that Australia Post had received the request from Ms Holgate's lawyers to attend mediation and provided assurances that Australia Post intended to participate once a suitable date could be agreed.
5 May 2021
The Australia Post Board issued the following statement confirming that they had agreed to participate in mediation with Ms Holgate:
Australia Post's lawyers have again written to Ms Holgate's lawyers confirming that Australia Post will participate in a mediation...
Further, given the public interest in this matter and Australia Post's wish to be transparent about it, we have asked that Ms Holgate agree that following the mediation the parties will make public what she asked Australia Post to give her to settle the dispute and also the outcome of the mediation.
At the time of writing, it is unclear to the committee whether or not mediation has commenced.
10 May 2021
It was announced that Ms Holgate has been appointed the future CEO of Global Express, a rival delivery company that competes with Australia Post. Global Express was part of Toll Holdings, but is 'in the process of being sold to private equity firm Allegro Funds'. Global Express will encompass what is currently Toll's 'Australian and New Zealand logistics and home delivery operations', which employs over 8000 people.