Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate said she was “suicidal” after the Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded she stand aside during an investigation into the purchase of Cartier watches and begged senior Liberal frontbenchers for help.
Giving evidence to a Senate inquiry, Ms Holgate was grilled by One Nation’s Pauline Hanson who railed against her treatment.
“And I think if you read that note and I apologise in advance, that it is rambling and it is rambling because I was seriously ill, I was on temazepam,’’ Ms Holgate said.
“I was suicidal. You know? That’s why it was rambling. Simon Birmingham and I used to co-chair the trade board together so I knew him independently of his role as Minister for Finance and that’s why I sought his help.
“He had just been made the head of the Senate, and so I wrote to him and said ‘Surely, now that you’re Minister for Finance, Minister of trade and head of the Senate, you will help me get a resolution and stop what’s happening to me’. I just asked to be treated with respect.
“On Saturday December 25, which felt like a lifetime when you are going through hell, by the way, I texted Simon Birmingham on his private mobile and asked him, ’I’ve heard nothing back and when can we have the meeting’, I received no reply.”
Earlier, Ms Holgate delivered bombshell evidence, accusing the Prime Minister of humiliating her and bullying her out of a job.
Ms Holgate argues she was illegally stood down from her job after the Prime Minister told Parliament last year that if she refused to stand aside during an investigation into the gifts of Cartier watches to executives then “she should go”.
She argued the treatment was very different for men accused of misconduct in the Morrison Government.
“The simple truth is I was bullied out of my job,’’ Ms Holgate told Parliament.
“I was humiliated and driven to despair. I was thrown under the bus of the chairman of Australia Post, to carry favour with his political masters. But I’m still here and I’m stronger for surviving it.”
Ms Holgate also sought to draw a link to allegations that Mr Morrison’s own cabinet ministers have been accused of that the Prime Minister has dismissed because they occurred several years ago.
But questions emerged at the Senate inquiry over whether there was a deeper agenda to privatise Australia Post that was a factor in Ms Holgate’s removal.
“I don’t know why the Prime Minister took the action he did. I’m putting to you today I was unlawfully stood down and my contract got repudiated. I’ve only ever asked for respect,’’ she said.
“And I have never been allowed it. So, maybe I answer that slightly differently. I don’t know why the Prime Minister did what he did. But I was unlawfully stood down, I believe, because he instructed it to do so.”
Ms Holgate also outlined the circumstances of her departure from the top job, saying in her opinion it was completely unjustified.
“I think that’s pretty obvious. I should never have been not at work. There was nothing to justify unlawfully standing me down,’’ she said.
“And my answer has been very consistent – I love Australia Post. There’s no day that I don’t admire and respect the people, but I cannot work for a chair that lies in the Senate and does not have integrity.”
Ms Holgate also accused the Board of leaking her statement offering to resign to Sky News to force an outcome but before the agreement was signed or finalised.
“It was not I who released it to Sky News. The only people who had that statement was the board,’’ she said.
“I sought no financial compensation.”
Ms Holgate reserved much of her criticism for the Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo. As she is giving evidence to a Senate inquiry and Parliament her claims of bullying, lying and intimidation are covered by parliamentary privilege.
Had it not been for the inquiry, Ms Holgate said the Australia Post chairman “would likely have succeeded in getting away with lying to the Australian people, to their Senate, to the employees and partners of Australia Post, not least would he have ever been held to account for the bullying of myself”.
“My evidence is backed up by hard facts, written proof. It is undeniably independent witnesses, it is verifiable,’’ she said.
“In contrast, the evidence of the chairman of Australia Post is fabricated. He fabricated the agreement by myself to stand down and he continues to do so today.
“I believe he did so to save his own position from political peril and because it amounted he would never be called to account for his actions. He has also lied about very important matters relating to the future of Australia Post.
“This must not be allowed to stand. Australia Post is a vital national asset and one which I passionately believe serves the Australian people, their economy and their individual communities in hugely important ways. I was honoured to lead it. And I was devastated to be driven out of it. But its employees, delivery partners and community post offices will always have a stamp on my heart.”
Accusing her former chairman of “fabricating” claims she willingly agreed to stand down Ms Holgate said she had been bullied.
“I have only ever wanted what was best for Australia Post and its people,’’ she said.
“Yet I lost my job, a job that I loved, because I was humiliated by our Prime Minister for committing no offence and then bullied by my chairman. Their bullying of me was far from over. I was subjected to a biased investigation and intimidated with constant threats of further allegations and criticism. Throughout this time, my health had deteriorated to the point where I could not find my voice to fight back. This is a day the chairman of Australia Post and the other men involved in what happened to me will be held to account.”