Australia Post Chief Executive Christine Holgate has been told to step down as an inquiry is underway into $12,000 of spending on Cartier watches for senior executives.
The cash splash was announced at the Senate Estimates hearing on Thursday. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told Parliament that he had been “shocked and concerned” about the gifts that morning.
“I have spoken to the chair of Australia Post, I have explained … that the boards and managements of government business enterprises need to take great care with taxpayers’ money,” Mr Fletcher said.
“I have also asked the chair to inform the chief executive and she will be asked to stand aside during the course of this investigation.”
The Communications Department will conduct an independent inquiry into the matter and conduct of the members of the Board, their governance and the actions of the management and executives involved. The investigation is expected to take four weeks and begin immediately, the government said in a statement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that if Ms. Holgate refuses to stand “she can go.”
“I was appalled and it is disgraceful and not on,” Mr Morrison said.
The government is seeking legal advice as to whether Ms. Holgate can stand with or without pay.
On Thursday, Ms Holgate defended the purchase of four Cartier watches in October 2018, saying, “I have not used taxpayers’ money, we are commercial.”
Ms Holgate told the committee that four staff members who had served on the Bank@Post agreement had been rewarded for their hard work.
“They were a small number of senior people who had put in an inordinate amount of work and they did receive an award,” Ms Holgate said.