A felled woman turned crusader: How Holgate changed the narrative

When Christine Holgate arrived at Parliament House this week, the political climate was much changed from the one she’d fled five months earlier as the besieged boss of Australia Post.

The furore over the Cartier watches scandal had subsided, and since been dwarfed in seriousness by a sexual harassment crisis that engulfed the Morrison government and appalled the nation. A reckoning had arrived, triggering a public outpouring by women of their mistreatment at the hands of men.

Former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate’s testimony this week that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had bullied her out of top job was made more potent by the harassment scandals that have plagued the government in recent weeks.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen/Dominic Lorrimer

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was still reeling from an avalanche of anger at his fumbled attempts to convince women he was listening to their concerns, when Holgate added her testimony to the mix.

In three hours of eviscerating evidence to a Senate inquiry, Holgate told the country Morrison was a bully who had humiliated her in the Parliament and conspired with Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo to drive her out of the job.

The ordeal, she said, left her suicidal. Her gender was “absolutely” a factor, she said, while wearing suffragette white to hammer home the point. So too was her was objection to the findings of a secret government-commissioned review by Boston Consulting Group, which explored options for privatising Australia Post’s parcel business, closing post offices, and cutting jobs.

“Do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do,” she said.

Holgate resigned as chief executive of Australia Post on November 2, 10 days after a firestorm of controversy erupted over revelations she had spent $20,000 on Cartier watches as bonuses for four senior employees.

But what began as a narrative of corporate largesse by a CEO too flippant with taxpayers’ money, has five months later morphed into an accusation the Prime Minister had torn down the first-ever female boss of the postal service.

Few Friends on either side of Parliament

The reality is Holgate had few friends on either side of the Parliament last year as she became engulfed in a political and media frenzy.

Weighing in on November 30, Albanese she had “done the wrong thing” and he supported her “paying a price.” When Holgate fell on her sword days later, he said: “I think it’s perfectly reasonable that Christine Holgate resign.”

Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching, whose line of questioning in Senate estimates on October 22 prompted Holgate to disclose Cartier gifts, condemned the business “elite” who had come to Holgate’s defence in an opinion piece for the Herald Sun in November.

“The bizarre spectacle of one pampered poodle after another defending the right of a multimillion-dollar salaried public servant using public money to buy luxury watches as personal gifts for her favoured staff is one that defies credulity,” she wrote.

As public opinion consolidated this week around the view that a top female executive had been dispatched without due process, the Morrison government tried to sheet home blame to Labor.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who stood accused of pressuring Di Bartolomeo into standing Holgate down, accused Kitching of orchestrating a political ambush.

Christine Holgate, centre, wearing suffragette white to a Senate hearing. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Labor capitalised on Holgate’s comments to pile pressure on Morrison.

“Christine Holgate, I think today the most powerful thing that she did was to point out the hypocrisy of Scott Morrison in demanding she go during question time and at the same time he’s hanging on to Andrew Laming,” Albanese told reporters.

“The privatisation plot”

Holgate also raised the spectre that her opposition to a BCG review, commissioned by the Coalition in 2019, was key to her demise. She provided the inquiry with extracts of a confidential report, which explored options for privatisation of the parcels business as well as other cost-cutting measures such as closing up to 190 post offices, and implementing a permanent alternate day letter delivery model.

Holgate said the recommendations, if implemented, would have seen thousands of jobs cut across Australia Post.

“I objected rigorously to the BCG recommendations, and I still do. It is completely the wrong strategy for Australia Post to its customers, to the teams and to the communities,” she told the inquiry

Her comments forced Fletcher to rule out a privatisation agenda this week.

“Australia Post is a government business enterprise, 100 per cent owned by the government. That will not change,” he said.

The inquiry has been extended beyond its initial reporting date of April 30 and its possible Holgate may be recalled for further evidence.

But her appearance this week – pitched as a transformation from felled woman to crusader – will linger in public memories long after the political bickering is over.

“I didn’t need to sit and contemplate what those men did to me. I did it because I want to stop workplace bullying. I want to stop this ridiculous intimidation. They harassed me, and they thought they’d got away with it,” she told ABC’s 7.30 program.

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