MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 13 APRIL 2021
SUBJECT: Senate Inquiry into Australia Post.
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good afternoon. The evidence we’ve heard from Ms Christine Holgate from the Senate Inquiry today is absolutely extraordinary. There are serious questions which need to be answered by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Communications and the Chair of the Australia Post Board – who is giving evidence right now. There are serious questions that have been raised about due process in particular and the treatment of Ms Holgate in proportion to the treatment the Prime Minister has afforded to other members of his own team who have engaged in questionable conduct. There is also a serious issue that has arisen as a result of Ms Holgate’s evidence, and that goes to secret studies undertaken in order to produce mass job cuts at Australia Post – some 5,000 jobs – the closure of some 200 post offices, which means that services in regional Australia would be impacted.
Labor has sought this Inquiry in order to determine the facts. It remains to be seen whether the evidence that has been given this afternoon will be the end of the matter. One thing is certain: this Government is in full panic mode. Only yesterday, they announced the appointment of a new CEO of Australia Post – a highly provocative and disrespectful decision that goes not only to disrespect for the incoming CEO who in fact doesn’t start until September, but also to the Senate process itself. This is a Government that is making it up as they go along. They have no respect for the institution that is Australia Post. This Prime Minister effectively sacked Ms Holgate on the floor of the Australian Parliament. There are serious questions here that are continuing to be explored, and we look forward to those continuing this afternoon and into the future.
JOURNALIST: Christine Holgate says the Chair should resign. Does Labor agree?
ROWLAND: Labor wants to see this Inquiry play out and he is giving evidence right now. We should let the Senate do its job and undertake its investigation. But I will say this: Labor has maintained for a long period of time that the Board of Australia Post is a dysfunctional swamp of would-be Liberal hacks, politicians and mates of Scott Morrison. It clearly has a serious problem with its own governance and it clearly needs to go.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese, yourself, Kimberley Kitching were all extremely critical of Christine Holgate at the time the luxury watches were revealed, including calling her position “untenable”, calling on her to resign. Does Labor regret its own actions at that time?
ROWLAND: Let’s be very clear: the purchase of those watches as a reward was not appropriate. We said that at the time and we maintain that. Let’s look at today: Ms Holgate has given evidence that her position was made untenable, not by the Senate doing its job in questioning the expenditure of public money, but the actions of Scott Morrison humiliating her, by the actions of others bullying her, by the actions of others highlighting double standards compared to her. That is her own evidence. Let’s be very clear here: never has Ms Holgate raised any concerns or any criticisms of the fact that she deserves to be questioned, as is the right of the Senate. What she has a grievance about is that she’s been abandoned by her shareholder Ministers, she was thrown under a bus, the bus reversed and ran over her again. It’s her treatment she has issue with, not the fact the Senate doing its job and the public accountability the public expect.
JOURNALIST: Doesn’t Labor bear some responsibility? She spoke about being humiliated, about being bullied, the extraordinary pressure she was under. Labor was pushing the Prime Minister to do something.
ROWLAND: Everyone was pushing the Prime Minister to do something, but the Prime Minister made his own decision there. It was nothing that Labor did, in terms of asking questions, that caused her to be humiliated. It was the actions of the Prime Minister himself. He can make his own judgement as to the circumstances in which he made the decision to call for an independent view of Ms Holgate – the Maddocks Review – what he does with that review and what its findings were and how he acts on them. The job of the Senate, especially at Estimates, is to review public expenditure and to hold Departments, Agencies and public servants to account. Ms Holgate clearly accepts that. What she has taken issue with is the double standards and the fact that the Prime Minister, of his own volition, decided to sack her on the floor of the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: You concede that Labor jumped on a pile on on Christine Holgate at the time? You said everybody was calling on her to resign, and it was a pile on that caused her great anxiety.
ROWLAND: It was not Labor calling on her to resign. At no stage did I or any of my colleagues call on her to resign. It was made very clear that her position was made untenable as a result of the actions of the Prime Minister and that was confirmed by Ms Holgate today. The fact that the Prime Minister chose to take advice from whomever to make that decision in terms of what he said on the floor of the Parliament, that is for him to determine. That is for him to answer questions on. But it is always the right of the Senate to ask questions, and let’s remember, this is a multi-billion dollar entity. The Prime Minister chose the actions that he did.
JOURNALIST: How much does sexism come into this do you think?
ROWLAND: Well I think it’s very clear from what Ms Holgate is saying is that she’s been treated one way, in a very gendered prism, as opposed to the way in which other men have been treated within the Prime Minister’s own ranks. Clearly, she has a grievance with the double standards imposed there.
JOURNALIST: I just wanted to be clear on Labor’s position. Christine Holgate did the right thing by resigning, but your critical of the way the Prime Minister handled the situation?
ROWLAND: Ms Holgate disputes the circumstances of her no longer being in the CEO position. That’s the first thing that needs to be considered there. What I do take issue with is the way the Prime Minister chose to act in the Parliament, the fact that Ms Holgate herself gave evidence that she did not think the Prime Minister was properly briefed on the matter, and that she was not afforded due process.
JOURNALIST: With retrospect, has Christine Holgate done anything wrong?
ROWLAND: That is why this Senate Inquiry has been established, and we should find out what its findings are and what recommendations arise out of it.