• John McDonnell

The hypocrisy and inconsistencies of the Holgate affair

Even before she appeared before the Senate inquiry this week, Christine Holgate had engendered a lot of sympathy within and outside the political class.

Senators Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie were strong supporters as was noted financial columnist Robert Gottliebsen. This was because she was an excellent CEO of Australia Post, who had saved thousands of small post offices from financial oblivion.

However, her appearance in front of the Senate inquiry changed the dynamic.

She chose to exculpate herself from all responsibility by attacking the Board of Australia Post and the Prime Minister on the entirely tendentious grounds that she was “bullied from office”.

What Ms Holgate overlooked in her 100-plus page submission to the Senate - and her subsequent interview with Laura Tingle on the ABC - is that as well as being the chief executive of a statutory corporation, she was a public servant and therefore had a public duty to the parliament. This means, at the very least, that when the PM and the Leader of the Opposition said she should step aside while an investigation was carried out into her gift of watches to senior executives, she should have done just that without argument.

Instead, she has arrogantly chosen to argue that she is above parliament and to argue that the suggestion that she should stand aside “is the most disgraceful act of bullying she has ever seen”.

In addition, when she appeared before the Senate committee, Senator Kim Carr asked Ms Holgate whether she thought her treatment was gender-based.

She said it was.

If she meant by this that no male had been treated as badly as she was, she was wrong.

In 2003, an official in DFAT alleged that the Australian Wheat Board was paying bribes to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, contrary to international and Australian law.

As a consequence, AWB CEO Andrew Lindberg - who had been instrumental in saving the livelihoods of countless numbers of Australian wheat-growers - was unceremoniously sacked by the Howard government in 2006.

In 2007 the Cole commission recommended that criminal investigations into Lindberg’s conduct should be undertaken. Cole had found that the AWB had paid an Iraqi company to transport wheat sold to Iraq around the country. That company had probably paid some money to Saddam Hussein.

The AWB and Lindberg were sued by some wheat-growers who wanted the transport charges refunded to them. The court dismissed the case.

Lindberg was also investigated by the AFP and the DPP concluded there was insufficient evidence that a crime had been committed.

An ASIC investigation was commenced in 2008 at the instigation of the Rudd government but no charges have ever been laid.

Compared to Lindberg, the suggestion that Holgate should step aside while she was investigated for a possible breach of public duty, was a very light touch indeed. It is likely that had she done so she would have been reinstated once the executives handed back the Cartier watches. The evidence for this is that she still holds a public office as chair of the Board of Trade and has not been asked to resign.

The hypocrisy in this matter arises from the fact that Opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, has sought to weaponise the issue to highlight Scott Morrison’s problems with women and to distance himself from his own calls for Ms Holgate to stand aside.

Inconsistency is displayed by women crossbenchers, Helen Haines and Jacqui Lambie, who have agreed that Ms Holgate was mistreated by Mr Morrison, and called on him to apologise.

Both these women are supporters of a full-scale Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) as proposed by a group of retired judges.

Under that draft legislation, Ms Holgate’s payment in kind to senior executives of Australia Post - who were also public officials - would have been deemed corruption and they would have been hauled in front of the proposed ICAC and publicly humiliated, in the same way that NSW premier, Barry O’Farrell was humiliated for accepting a bottle of Grange from an unknown donor.

Ms Haines, in particular, doesn’t seem to understand the implications of the legislation she strongly supports.