03 November 2020




SUBJECTS: Resignation of the Australia Post CEO: draft National Integrity Commission legislation.
DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Australia Post is searching for a new Chief Executive after the resignation of Christine Holgate yesterday. 

LISA MILLAR, HOST: She was forced to stand aside following criticism of expensive watches given to senior executives. Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has called for a clean-up of the Board at Australia Post and she joins us now from Sydney. Good morning and welcome to Breakfast.


MILLAR: Do you agree she should have gone? Was this the right decision for her to make, to resign now?

ROWLAND: Lisa, I’ll reserve that judgement because an investigation is underway, and we have Senate Estimates questioning again for Australia Post next week. It has been a very strange ten days or so since these revelations first came to light. We’ve had –

MILLAR: But you’d have a view on the watches, whether it passes the pub test? Even Christine Holgate suggests that it didn’t.

ROWLAND: I certainly do, and I said this at the time, that this did not pass the muster for any responsible spending, particularly since Australia is in a recession. But I also think it has been an incredible couple of days in which we’ve had initially the Prime Minister looking like he had effectively sacked her on the floor of the Parliament and then lawyers being called in only a few days ago, different identities in the media both for and against the CEO, and then yesterday this offer of resignation.

MILLAR: At the core though isn’t this a question of how they treat money, whether they treat it as taxpayer money?

ROWLAND: It certainly is. It’s about that, it’s about governance, it’s about whether the Board is capable of proper executive oversight and to date the evidence is that it is not. It is a swamp of Liberal Party mates and hacks. But it also needs to go to the other key issue and that is about service delivery. I mean, this is a Government and this is an Executive – a Board – that signed off on a proposal at the height of COVID, using it as cover to try and cut one in four postie jobs, to double delivery timeframes and cut services. That’s what Labor has spoken out against.

MILLAR: But you’re not saying that Labor has never appointed political appointees to Boards?

ROWLAND: That’s not the issue here. The issue here is whether or not this particular Board, at this particular time, in a government business enterprise, which is supposed to be delivering a very important job particularly during the pandemic, is capable of performing its functions. Clearly there are serious questions to answer here.

MILLAR: Is there a different way to appoint Board members?

ROWLAND: There are different ways for different entities, but I think you need to examine the merits of those. I don’t think that this is a question purely confined to this instance. I mean, the ABC for example, there is a process for Board appointments, as with the SBS and other government business enterprises. But the proof is in the performance Lisa. You need to look at whether this Board has done its job, whether the Chair has done its job. The Board and the Chair didn’t appear during the last round of Estimates, and they’ll be called next week.

MILLAR: Do you think there needs to be a wider review into how these organisations are spending money?

ROWLAND: Possibly, but I think we need to stick to the core issue here. This is about a government business enterprise, which at the height of COVID, should be seeking to expand services, not seeking to cut jobs. This is about a Prime Minister who shows outrage, a Communications Minister who says he is “shocked” by these revelations, but neither of them apply the same standards, in this case, that they should apply to their own portfolios or their own Government.

MILLAR: Can I ask you about the Integrity Commission. Mark Dreyfus has already indicated that he is not happy with this proposal, but wouldn’t you be better off getting something in and operating that if you got into government you could change or beef up as required? 

ROWLAND: I understand what you’re asking: should we have something half good and then make it better later on? I think the point of a proper Integrity Commission is that it should be set up properly from the get-go, so people know its boundaries, something that is arrived at after proper consultation and something people would have confidence in. I don’t know whether it would serve the confidence of the Australian people to have a Commission that is set up as half good with a promise to make it better later on.

MILLAR: Alright, Michelle Rowland, we’ll leave it there. Thank you for your time.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.