Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s sacking of former Australia Post (AP) CEO Christine Holgate, allegedly for gifting four Cartier watches to senior executives, is a clumsy attempt to hide its privatisation plan for the postal service.
Last October, the PM delivered a rant against Holgate for gifting the watches two years earlier to executives who brokered a deal, known as Bank@Post. This deal ended up saving around 2000 community post offices in rural and regional areas. The franchises became banking outlets to avoid being closed down.
At the same time, Morrison launched a Senate inquiry into AP, which is due to report at the end of April.
Holgate’s evidence to the Australia Post Senate inquiry on April 13 showed that Morrison wanted her out of the way because she opposed AP’s sell-off of its parcel service.
She tabled extracts from a secret Boston Consulting Group report which outlined options to slash services, cut jobs and sell off parts of AP. The extracts indicate that the parcel sell-off would cut 8000 full-time jobs.
Holgate, the Morrison government thought, was a part of the team. After all, she was taking home $2.2 million, and she had o presided over the so-called “temporary” COVID-19 measures, yet to be lifted, which put enormous pressure on AP workers to engage in unsafe work practices.
National NSW Postal & Telecommunications Union (Communications Division) president Shane Murphy said on April 15 that the government and AP management are “in cahoots” to privatise AP and have used the pandemic as cover.
He called on Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to “undertake not to separate out the parcel and letters business of Post”, a precursor to privatisation.
“We need an end to the push for job losses, service cuts and greater casualisation of the Australia Post workforce, a push that leads to future privatisation.”
Murphy added that despite the detrimental impact of the pandemic measures, “patronage has grown and the services provided by postal workers have proved vital”.
“Post has proved itself an essential service for the community, especially in regional and rural areas. Now the federal government must stop the political games and commit to restoring service levels and keeping the workforce fully employed.”
Holgate told the Senate inquiry, due to report on April 30, she had opposed any attempt to privatise the parcel business and cut more services.
“I think we can just look to the UK model, [which] split out parcels and privatised it and left the post offices behind – the post services went bankrupt and I’m sure you’re very aware of the multiple legal cases that had to take against the government. That’s number one,” she told the April 14 Guardian.
“But number two, most importantly, [is that] this is a national asset that is critical to the infrastructure of our country, particularly for rural and regional Australia.”
Holgate went on to say that AP is one of the country’s biggest employers. “Almost 100,000 families are employed at Australia Post, 80,000 including our direct contractors, about another 20,000 through people who primarily work for us.
“We know that for every person we employ, there are two more jobs in the economy. So, when you take down one Australia Post person you’re taking three jobs away. That is a massive negative impact.”
Holgate claimed her opposition to recommendations from the Boston Consulting Group review, commissioned by the government in July 2019, but still to be made public, is the reason for its push to oust her.
The government’s appointment of new chair Lucio de Bartolomeo that year gave impetus to the push to “streamline” AP, including slashing letter deliveries to once a week.
Greens Senator and chair of the Australia Post Senate inquiry, Sarah Hanson-Young said Holgate had been “bullied” out of her job for “protecting Australia Post from further privatisation and service cuts”. She said the government must rule out any future privatisation and job cuts.
The Community and Public Sector Union’s Proud to Be Public campaign has launched a petition to Keep Australia Post in Public Hands.