'I wish to clarify': True cost of Australia Post Christina Holgate's Cartier watches revealed

Australia Post is under pressure after revelations about gifts for senior staff.
Australia Post is under pressure after revelations about gifts for senior staff.

Australia Post has revealed the true cost of the Cartier watches, which led to chief executive Christine Holgate standing down from her role pending a review of the gifts for senior staff.

Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo said the board checked minutes of meetings, but had been unable to find a record of the purchase of four watches, initially thought to be worth $12,000 in total.

Australia Post published a statement on Friday night, and Mr Di Bartolomeo said he had become aware of further details.

"I wish, as a matter of urgency, to clarify the purchase was of four items costing $7000, $4750, $4400, $3800 totalling $19,950," Mr Di Bartolomeo said in the statement.

The $7950 discrepancy will heap more pressure on Ms Holgate's role after she fronted a senate estimates committee in Canberra on Thursday.

The cost of the watches was removed from an updated statement on the Australia Post website on Friday night.

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"The board is acutely aware of community and shareholder feedback over the last 24 hours," Mr Di Bartolomeo said.

"The board noted media commentary regarding the then board's involvement in the purchase of Cartier watches. The board was advised at today's meeting that a check of board papers and minutes from this period show the then board was not asked to approve or note the purchase of those Cartier watches.

"The board was further advised today that these papers and minutes do not record any subsequent reference to the purchase.

"Australia Post is one of our country's most trusted brands and its reputation has been built over 210 years. The board will ensure this legacy is preserved and as part of this the board and management have this morning recommitted to full co-operation with the government initiated inquiry."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has put all government-owned businesses and agencies on notice that luxury gifts and above-limit expense claims won't be tolerated.

The Prime Minister told parliament on Thursday the gifts were disgraceful and appalling, as he demanded Ms Holgate step aside during the investigation.

On Friday, it was also revealed the chairman of the corporate watchdog ASIC, James Shipton, had stood aside pending an investigation into $118,000 in expenses, which he has pledged to pay back.

His deputy Dan Crennan has also committed to paying back $70,000 in expenses.

Asked whether it was time for a broader examination of pay and bonuses in government businesses and agencies, Mr Morrison said he was open to the idea.

"Let's see. But I think there wouldn't be a board member of a government agency or a CEO of a government agency that did not get my message yesterday," he said.

"I think they got it with a rocket.

"And so my advice to them is to get it."

Mr Morrison said the watches would not have passed any test with the Australian public.

"Companies that are owned by the government, I believe, through their board and their management executives, will be held to that standard, and I think I applied that very firmly yesterday."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said people were right to be angry.

"Christine Holgate obviously has come from the private sector and that might be an acceptable way to provide a bonus or reward to staff," Mr Dutton said.

"But in Australia Post where you're talking essentially about taxpayer dollars, the Australian government, the Australian people are the shareholders in Australia Post, then it's unacceptable."

Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said the Australia Post boss was not the only one with questions to answer.

Mr Marles said the chairman made the call on the watches and the board backed his decision.

"This is a board packed full of Liberal mates and there does need to be action in relation to the board," he said.

Rodney Boys, the chief financial officer of the government-owned business, will act in the chief executive role during the investigation by the federal communications and finance departments, supported by an external law firm.

A Senate estimates hearing was told the total value of Australia Post incentives was $97.4 million in the 2019-20 financial year.

More than $60 million flowed to 2500 employees involved in the corporate incentive plan, ranging from senior staff to general managers.

A further $21.6 million was "thank you" payments for frontline workers including posties, drivers and processors, while $5.6 million was spent on gift cards for contractors and licensees.

- With AAP

This story 'I wish to clarify': True cost of Australia Post watches revealed first appeared on The Canberra Times.