The Australia Post chairman says he would not have allowed the purchase of Cartier watches if he was in charge two years ago.
Chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo addressed a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday night, paying tribute to Christine Holgate, who quit as Australia Post CEO last week due to the ongoing investigation into the purchasing of the luxury watches.
Ms Holgate was asked to step down from her role as CEO by Scott Morrison after it was revealed she used the company credit card to purchase $12,000 worth of Cartier watches to give to staff members as a bonus two years ago.
Mr Di Bartolomeo told the hearing he would not have allowed it to happen if he was chair at the time.
“If I had been chair in 2018 and had been made aware of the proposal to purchase Cartier watches, I would have vetoed that purchase,” he said.
“While highly appreciative of the excellent work of the staff concerned … I acknowledge the purchase of the watches may not have met with expectations of members of the public or my own expectations.”
Mr Di Bartolomeo said Australia Post is in a unique situation, as a government business enterprise owned by the taxpayer.
“I understand well that our ownership structure places a unique responsibility to manage the resources of this business prudently and ultimately in the best interests of all Australians as underlying shareholders as well as customers,” he said.
Mr Di Bartolomeo said Australia Post is working cooperatively with the investigations under way into the watch purchases.
He also paid tribute to Ms Holgate’s hard work in an “extraordinary” year that included the bushfires and pandemic.
As the Christmas peak approaches, he said parcel volumes are forecast at about 50 per cent higher compared to last year, which in itself was the largest peak ever experienced by the $7.5 billion government enterprise.
Australia Post also recruited and trained an extra 5000 staff this year.
In a statement, Ms Holgate said she accepted the Cartier watches did not “pass the pub test”.
“I deeply regret that a decision made two years ago, which was supported by the Chair, to recognise the outstanding work of four employees has caused so much debate and distraction and I appreciate the optics of the gifts involved do not pass the ‘pub test’ for many,” she said.
Originally published as Aus Post chair ‘would stop watch purchase’