13 April 2021




SUBJECT/S: Senate Inquiry into Australia Post

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s bring in the Shadow Communications Minster, Michelle Rowland. Now should Christine Holgate be returned to the job of Chief Executive?

MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Let’s look at the context here Kieran. We have this Inquiry that’s underway and we should let the Senate do its work and reach a set of recommendations. As Ms Holgate herself has articulated, we have a situation where there is clear animosity between herself and the Chair, she has called him a liar on the record in relation to some key issues and as a practical matter it is difficult to see circumstances in which both she and the Chair – and the Board for that matter – can co-exist, but we should let the Senate continue to undertake its inquiries.

GILBERT: What’s your view on the way this has been handled by the Government? Has it been appropriate?

ROWLAND: It’s been appalling, it’s been appalling because -

GILBERT: In what sense?

ROWLAND: Because the standard that has been applied here to Ms Holgate, and certainly this is one of her key grievances, is that it is not the same standards that the Prime Minister has applied to members of his own team. She has also approached this in a gender prism as well and she has clearly articulated where her treatment has been disproportionate to, even say for example the Communications Minister who in another role approved the purchase of land for $30 million that was only worth $3 million and was criticised by the ANAO so –

GILBERT: Mr Albanese said that her position was also untenable at the time, he also said Christine Holgate’s position was untenable

ROWLAND: Let’s be clear: it was made untenable as a result of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made her position untenable by effectively sacking her on the floor of the Parliament. Even Ms Holgate today expressed almost precisely those terms: that her position was made untenable as a result of precisely that.

GILBERT: Anthony Albanese said that Ms Holgate has done the wrong thing and supports her paying the price for that, he said it explicitly.

ROWLAND: Well certainly no one disputes that the awarding, as she had done, of those watches wasn’t appropriate in those circumstances. I think even she has reflected on that and in particular, she has reflected on part of her justification which at the time she said well we weren’t using taxpayer’s money. Now clearly she has reflected on that and –

GILBERT: You still believe that doesn’t pass the pub test, that was essentially what the Government said at the outset?

ROWLAND: As we said from the outset, you should have a very high standard for government business enterprises like Australia Post. This is a multibillion-dollar entity and one must treat public money with care and clearly a higher standard needs to be set in that respect. To be rewarded those watches, as I said at the time and I maintain today, did not meet that test. The grievance that Ms Holgate has clearly articulated today is that the process that has been followed, and in fact the lack of due process that has been followed in those circumstances. How extraordinary that we even have evidence today that disputes whether or not she has been legally effectively removed from her position, whether or not the relevant Act has in fact been followed by the Shareholder Ministers. We are in this ridiculous situation where it is not exactly clear whether she holds her position or not, according to some of her evidence. But yesterday in such a provocative and disrespectful move, an announcement was made of a new CEO, whose appointment won’t even become effective until September this year.

GILBERT: Is there a scenario where you see her returning? I know you said there is a huge divide with the Chair now and obviously accusing him of lying and so on. If the Chair were to be removed, as she said he should be, is there scope for her to be returned?

ROWLAND: Well I think getting into hypotheticals like that is difficult when you have this Inquiry going on and the Chair as you noted is giving evidence right now. Australia Post needs to give evidence as well and the Department needs to give evidence. I think the situation we are in is that we need to let the Senate do its job, we need to see what recommendations come out. But I will say this Kieran: that Board is a dysfunctional swamp of Liberal Party hacks and yes-men for the Prime Minister, and it’s got to go, it’s not doing its job.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, thanks.