Australia Post will pay its former chief executive Christine Holgate $1m to settle claims relating to her departure from the organisation during the Cartier watch controversy.
According to a statement distributed by Holgate’s lawyers, Company Giles, on Wednesday, the parties settled the matter with Australia Post expressing “regret” for the circumstances of her exit but making no admission of liability.
Australia Post has also agreed to pay $100,000 towards Holgate’s legal costs.
Holgate was stood down in October 2020 due to a political backlash over her decision to gift four senior managers Cartier watches later valued at $20,000.
Holgate told a Senate inquiry earlier this year that Australia Post’s chair, Lucio di Bartolomeo, unlawfully stood her down from her job, but Australia Post denied the claim, countering that she had agreed to stand aside and later resigned.
According to the statement distributed on behalf of the parties, Australia Post and Holgate participated in mediation on 23 July before former federal court justice Peter Jacobson.
The parties had reached a settlement, consisting of a $1m payment “to be taxed as an employment termination payment” to Holgate and $100,000 of legal costs.
“To finalise the matter so that both parties can move on, Ms Holgate has released Australia Post from all legal claims and Australia Post is making the payment without any admission of liability,” it said.
“Australia Post acknowledges that it has lost an effective CEO following the events on the morning of 22 October 2020.
“Australia Post regrets the difficult circumstances surrounding Ms Holgate’s departure from her role as CEO.
“Australia Post recognises and thanks Ms Holgate for her outstanding contribution and strong leadership during her employment as CEO of Australia Post.
“Australia Post wishes Ms Holgate the best in her future endeavours.”
Holgate wished “the employees, partners and licensees of Australia Post her best wishes as they strive every day to provide a vital and affordable service to all Australians no matter where they reside”.
Labor’s shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said Scott Morrison and the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, had been “driven by panic and politics … from the moment the watch purchases became public”.
“No public official in the future should be subject to the unsubstantiated taunts of a sitting prime minister on the floor of parliament, as Ms Holgate was on 22 October 2020.
“The prime minister diminished himself with that juvenile and premeditated display.”
Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, who chaired a parliamentary inquiry into Holgate’s departure, said that the Morrison government and Australia Post’s poor treatment of the former chief executive “has cost taxpayer more than $1 million”.
Hanson-Young said Morrison’s reaction had “plunged the leadership of Australia Post into crisis, and now taxpayers are covering the clean up bill”.
“The prime minister should walk into parliament today and publicly apologise for his behaviour.”
A review into the Cartier watch controversy by law firm Maddocks found although the board did not approve the purchases they were within Holgate’s authority to give – which she said amounted to being “exonerated”.
Although there was no “dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds”, the review concluded the gifts were inconsistent with public service obligations regarding the “proper use and management of public resources”.
The settlement brings to a close an embarrassing chapter for the Morrison government, which drew community ire first for concern over spending in government business enterprises but then led to allegations of a heavy-handed approach to Holgate.
Morrison has refused to apologise to Christine Holgate, saying it was not his “intention” for his “strong language” to impact the former Australia Post chief executive, while rejecting her claim her gender played some role in her treatment.