SUBJECTS: Australia Post, Christine Holgate

NICOLE CHAVASTEK: It was a willing day in the Parliament. We requested an interview with the Communications Minister, who declined. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications spokesperson. Michelle Rowland, good afternoon.


CHAVASTEK: The Prime Minister says this was a willing day in the Parliament. There are many willing days in the Parliament. It's known for its rough and its tumble. Christine Holgate has now got a million dollars - is this matter now at an end?

ROWLAND: Well, I think in terms of the legal consequences of where this can go, just judging from the statement, this settlement has been reached without admission, and so in that legal sense, this is where it ends. But I think it speaks volumes for a couple of issues in terms of due process. For example, had due process being followed by the Australia Post board, the situation would never have arisen in the first place.

Had the Prime Minister chose not to diminish himself with a juvenile and premeditated display, effectively sacking Ms Holgate on the floor of the Parliament, then we wouldn't be in this situation either. And let's not forget that this may well be vindication for Ms Holgate, but at what cost to the taxpayer? At what cost to her reputation? At what cost to Australia Post’s reputation? And I think now is the time to really look forward and for Australia Post to go to what really matters to people, especially during this pandemic. And that's the provision of essential services.

CHAVASTEK: What do you mean that this goes to the provision of Essential Services? Australia Post has just lost a million dollars from its budget. I take it in an environment where Australia Post offices are closing, particularly in regional areas. And deliveries are being cut from daily to “you're lucky if they arrive in a week”.

ROWLAND: Well, precisely to your point, the crux of all of this, as was uncovered during the Senate inquiry, was Ms Holgate clearly had reservations about the regulatory changes and the job cuts that were being pursued by the Government. And this was all executed under the cover of COVID. But it did mean exactly as you said, it meant a diminution of services rather than a growth time during the pandemic and setting Australia Post on a course which was not in the national interest.

CHAVASTEK: Is that what the review was that she was pushing back against? Was that the trigger for her sacking a review which was recommending the closure of even more Australia Post offices in the regions, a review that was recommending even reduced services again in the regions?

ROWLAND: Well, these were some of the key findings that the Senate found in the Boston Consulting Group report. And Christine Holgate made it clear that she had reservations about these matters and yet the Government chose to push through with these changes. So I think it's very clear that she took a contrary view. But certainly, this doesn't negate the fact that the response from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications were really driven by panic and politics in how they approached this matter, nearly a year ago now.

CHAVASTEK: Do we get our million dollars back to taxpayers, get their million dollars back at some stage, or is it just sunk?

ROWLAND: Well, this is a settlement. What Ms Holgate chooses to do with that million dollars is a matter for her. She's also had $100,000 of her legal costs paid. But I think we also need to recall this has been going on for 10 months. When you calculate from the moment those words were spewed forth by the Prime Minister on the floor of the Parliament, this set-in train a great cost, both in monetary terms but also in reputational terms for a lot of people.

CHAVASTEK: Michelle Rowland, doesn't Labor have some part to play in her downfall? Was it not Labor who put to the Prime Minister the revelation that the CEO of Australia Post was rewarding her executives with Cartier watches?

ROWLAND: There was no revelation put by us to the Prime Minister. Our Senators asked questions during Senate Estimates which is the job of those Senators — to ask questions about public expenditure. And I would point out that Ms Holgate said as much in her direct evidence to the Senate hearings into this whole saga where she said it was the job of Labor to ask those questions. And as CEO, it was her job to answer them. She reserved her anger for the Prime Minister, his double standards, and the way that she was treated.

You only have to look at the way in which the Prime Minister went to the barricades to argue that Christian Porter should be afforded due process, but gave none of that to Ms Holgate.

CHAVASTEK: You started it, though, Michelle Rowland. It was Labor who brought this issue to the fore.

ROWLAND: Labor asked questions. It's our job to ask questions about public expenditure. No one put those words into the Prime Minister's mouth, which was the trigger for all of this. Those words — effectively sacking Ms Holgate on the floor of the Parliament — has got us to where we are today.

CHAVASTEK: Thank you for your time.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.

CHAVASTEK: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications spokesperson.