Referral of the inquiry
On 25 February 2021, the Senate referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee (committee) an inquiry into Australia Post for report by 30 April 2021, with particular reference to:
The circumstances leading to the direction by the Minister for Communications to the Chair of Australia Post on 22 October 2020, that the Chief Executive Officer of Australia Post, Christine Holgate, be stood down pending an investigation into her gifting in 2018 of watches to four managers who secured a $225 million investment into the organisation, with particular reference to:
if the gift of the watches was with the knowledge of the then Australia Post Chair and within existing Australia Post policy;
how the gifting of four watches compares with bonuses and gifts provided during the term of the previous Chief Executive Officers and within other government owned corporations such as the National Broadband Network;
actions of the Board of Australia Post following Ms Holgate's offer of resignation on 2 November 2020 leading up to the Chair's request for her to sign an amendment to her contract which would mean the immediate termination of her employment without any benefits, as against the $11 million bonus paid to her predecessor when he stepped down;
the veracity of evidence provided by the Chair of Australia Post to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee during an estimates hearing on 9 November 2020;
the current status of Ms Holgate's employment with Australia Post;
the issues surrounding the secret review of Australia Post by the Boston Consulting Group leading to the introduction of changes to Australia Post's service model;
the future of reductions to Australia Post's service model; and
any other related matters.
On 16 April 2021, the committee presented a progress report recommending that the Senate grant an extension to report until 17 May 2021. On 13 May 2021, the Senate granted a further an extension until 25 May 2021.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry on its webpage and wrote to number of relevant organisations and individuals, inviting submissions by 19 March 2021.
The committee received 104 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1 and available on the committee's website. Among the published submissions are many from individuals, including postal workers and licenced post office holders, who wrote to express their support for Ms Christine Holgate, Australia Post's former Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director (CEO), and to share their experiences of the organisation under her leadership.
The committee also received around 150 campaign submissions from individuals expressing support for Ms Holgate and advocating for her reinstatement as CEO of Australia Post. The committee accepted these as correspondence and has taken into account the views expressed.
The committee held three public hearings in Canberra: on 13 April 2021; 27 April 2021; and 3 May 2021. A list of witnesses that appeared at these hearings is available at Appendix 2.
Submissions published, Hansard transcripts of evidence from the hearings, tabled documents, answers to questions on notice, and other information received, are available on the committee's website.
The committee thanks all those who made submissions and gave evidence at the public hearings.
The committee wishes to acknowledge the intensity of the inquiry, and the challenges faced by participants, both in terms of the heightened levels of scrutiny and pressure, and the demands of the inquiry process.
In particular, the committee especially acknowledges the contributions of Ms Holgate, noting that the inquiry process has been a very difficult experience for her as it required her to re-experience the trauma caused by the events of late 2020.
The committee also acknowledges the considerable efforts of Australia Post staff in responding to requests for detailed information, often in tight timeframes.
Note on references
References to the committee Hansard are to the proof Hansard. Page numbers may vary between the proof and official transcript.
Structure of the report
This report has three parts:
Part I provides the background to the inquiry and an examination of Australia Post's engagement with it. It also sets out some relevant information on Australia Post, including its legislated community service obligations, recent changes its regulatory environment, and previous reviews undertaken into its operations.
Part II considers in detail the standing down and resignation of Ms Holgate, plus consideration of the adequacy of the Board's oversight of Australia Post; and
Part III looks to the future challenges and opportunities for Australia Post, as well as its service of provisions to regional and rural Australians.
Within these Parts, the chapters of this report are:
Part 1: Introduction, Engagement and Background
Chapter 1: sets out details on the inquiry's referral, terms of reference and conduct;
Chapter 2: examines Australia Post's engagement with the inquiry and the Senate; and
Chapter 3: provides a background to the inquiry, including recent reviews and inquiries into Australia Post, and the current operational changes to Australia Post's regulatory requirements implemented during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Part 2: The Holgate matter
Chapter 4: provides a timeline of relevant events;
Chapter 5: considers evidence received on the rewarding of watches to Australia Post officers;
Chapter 6: outlines the circumstances surrounding Ms Holgate's standing down;
Chapter 7: examines Ms Holgate's offer of resignation, as well as the actions of the Chair and Board; and
Chapter 8: details issues related to Board governance.
Part 3: The future of Australia Post
Chapter 9: considers the future of Australia Post, including matters emerging from the review undertaken by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and the temporary regulatory changes to Australia Post's service model; and
Chapter 10: concludes the report by outlining the regional and rural aspects that have arisen during the course of the inquiry.