Australia Post reveals the Cartier watches bought for executives actually cost almost $20,000

Australia Post's chief executive has stood aside pending a review into the gifting of the four watches, which cost around $8,000 more than previously stated.

Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appears before a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra, Thursday, October 22, 2020.

Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appears before a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra, Thursday, October 22, 2020. Source: AAP

Four luxury watches bought for Australia Post executives cost almost double the amount disclosed to parliament, it's been revealed.

Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate stood aside on Thursday pending a review into the gifting of four Cartier watches for senior staff, which a Senate estimates committee heard cost $12,000. 

But on Friday evening, Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo said the watches - which cost $7,000, $4,750, $4,400 and $3,800 - actually totaled $19,950.

The Cartier watches had been given to senior staff as a reward for a deal to do banking in post offices.

Mr Di Bartolomeo also said the Australia Post board did not sign off on the watches, as had been suggested by Ms Holgate.

“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,” he said.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday put all government-owned businesses and agencies on notice that luxury gifts and above-limit expense claims wouldn't be tolerated, after it was also revealed ASIC chairman 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 agencies, and a day after he said he was "appalled" by the Australia Post gifts, 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."

Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appears before a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra, Thursday, October 22, 2020.
Source: AAP

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

Mr Marles accused the chairman of the board of making the call on the watches and the board of backing 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.

The 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 2,500 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.

Additional reporting by Evan Young.

Published 23 October 2020 at 7:14pm, updated 23 October 2020 at 10:02pm
Source: AAP - SBS