Australia Post’s worst nightmare: Christine Holgate to head delivery rival Global Express


TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Paul Alexander, Curtin University“This is the one thing we didn’t want to happen.”

That line – from the satirical British current affairs television program BrassEye – could easily be reverberating through federal government offices this week.

Yesterday the news dropped that Christine Holgate, the Australia Post chief executive pushed so roughly from her job by the Morrison government, has a new job with a rival delivery company.

Holgate resigned last November, after Prime Mnister Scott Morrison told parliament she been told to stand aside over the “optics” of rewarding four senior managers with luxury watches, worth about $20,000 – and “if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.

Now Holgate has gone to a new role as chief executive of parcel-delivery competitor Global Express.

Her appointment, just a week after the expiry of her non-compete clause with Australia Post, is a gift for the new owners of Global Express, a former division of well-known Australian transport company Toll Holdings that has been struggling to find profitability.

If anyone can help turn around Global Express’s fortunes in Australia’s parcel-delivery market, Holgate can. Doing so will cost Australia Post, and Australian taxpayers.

A direct competitor

Until last month Global Express was one of three divisions of Toll Group, the Australian transport company that began in Newcastle in 1888. Its business has involved express parcel, freight delivery and domestic forwarding services in Australia, and transport and contract logistics services in New Zealand.

Toll Group was taken over in 2015 by Japan Post Holdings, the publicly traded company that runs Japan’s postal service. The acquisition was part of Japan Post’s strategy to diversify into global parcel deliveries. It proved less successful than the owner hoped, however, and in April the sale of Global Express to Australian private equity company Allegro Funds was announced.

Private equity firms have a reputation for quickly improving company bottom lines by ruthlessly cutting costs and focusing on the most profitable parts of the market.

In the case of Global Express – which has trucks, planes, depots and other infrastructure worth an estimated A$1 billion – this will almost certainly mean identifying the most lucrative parts of the parcel delivery market.

This is a market in which it competes head-on with Australia Post, relying on similar logistics and delivery infrastructures. It is a market Holgate knows very well. Arguably no one in Australia knows it better.

Cherry-picking parcels

Parcel delivery was a key area of concern for Holgate after she became Australia Post’s first female chief executive in 2017. It became even more crucial in 2020,
as the COVID pandemic and lockdowns led to massive surges in online shopping and thus parcel deliveries.

Holgate saw the opportunity to pivot more of Australia Post’s massive logistics processes – tied up with delivering dwindling numbers of letters – to the surging parcel delivery game.




Read more:
COVID hands Australia Post opportunity to end daily delivery


All seemed on track for Australia Post to grow and prosper with Holgate at its head. Then it came unstuck due to the federal government’s political reaction to the news Holgate in 2018 authorised the luxury watches gifts as a reward to four senior executives who secured a deal worth a reported A$220 million.

The view widely held in the industry is that the bonuses were within the normal operation practices of a commercial enterprise. Indeed, if the executives rewarded the watches had been given a cash bonus instead, it probably would never have become an issue and Holgate would still be Australia Post’s chief executive.

Now Holgate takes everything she knows about parcel delivery market, and her demonstrable ability in growing businesses, to Global Express.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Christine Holgate’s ‘principal’ error was applying corporate logic to Australia Post


Bad news for taxpayers

At Global Express, Holgate won’t have have to worry about a public service obligation to deliver mail to every postal address in Australia. She can say “no” to any unprofitable market segment. She can cherry-pick the most desirable business from Australia Post.

Nor will she have to worry about her board chairman taking her to task over luxury watches, or being excoriated in parliament.

It’s “game on” in the parcels business. Which is bad news for Australia Post, and ultimately Australian taxpayers.The Conversation

Paul Alexander, Adjunct Reseach Fellow (Supply Chains), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Christine Holgate gets her own bully pulpit – and uses it to effect


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraQueensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, juggling a couple of committee engagements, hadn’t planned to attend Tuesday’s hearing at which former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appeared.

But party elder Ron Boswell was insistent, telling Canavan he must be there, in the room, fighting for Australia Post’s small business licensees.

Boswell, himself a former senator, retains one of the best political “noses” in the business. He’d spoken to Canavan soon after the Holgate affair blew up last October, warning the issue was trouble and needed to be fixed.

Canavan was initially sceptical, thinking people would react against the Cartier watches she’d given four executives as a reward for a deal with banks to shore up Post’s licensee network.

But he’s come round to Boswell’s thinking.

The government has been somewhat dismissive of the campaign the licensees have waged in support of Holgate.

But Canavan judges the many small post office businesses in regional areas could pack quite a punch in next year’s election campaign if they chose. And in these areas in Queensland the Nationals are competing with One Nation.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Canavan wasn’t backward. It was he who put to Post’s chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo the pointed question: “Given that, as you say, Miss Holgate has a lot of support amongst your employees and important clients and suppliers, and given that Miss Holgate this morning has called for your resignation, would it not be better for Australia Post if you were to leave now, as well?” It was a reasonable proposition, but the chairman said he wasn’t going anywhere.

What has been notable, as Holgate lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for “bullying” her with his parliamentary tirade and Di Bartolomeo for not backing her, is the breadth of her constituency of support. It includes business figures and respected financial journalists, as well as the licensees.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Christine Holgate presents a compelling story of Morrison’s bullying


With her claim gender was a factor in how she was treated, and the suffragette-white attire, she has now astutely tapped into the new women’s movement that’s arisen off the back of the Brittany Higgins issue. In doing this, she’s hit Morrison where he’s particularly vulnerable.

Politically, her advocates stretch from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who was the moving force behind the Senate inquiry.

The bedfellows might be somewhat uncomfortable with each other, but it’s a big bed.

The week left Morrison and the government on the ropes over Holgate’s treatment. References to “luxury watches” have lost much of their shock value.

The government can only hope the issue will simply fade with time, as issues do. Except that those small business operators mightn’t forget.

There’s an interesting contrast in how Morrison is currently dealing with Higgins, who alleges she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office, and with Holgate.

The PM has reaffirmed he plans to meet Higgins. She’s indicated she’s not keen on re-entering Parliament House, so he’s willing to arrange another venue. He says he’s looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

Holgate, who wants an apology from Morrison, this week asked him to call her.

But he rejected that as unnecessary. Outstanding issues are between her and the Post board, he said. That may be true. By the same token, not to make the gesture is discourteous, at the least.

Remember, this was an executive who performed extremely well at Australia Post and who came out of the inquiry into the watches affair with only minor points against her.

Neither Morrison nor the two Australia Post shareholder ministers (Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and then Finance Minister Mathias Cormann) spoke directly to Holgate on October 22, the day Morrison excoriated her in Parliament.

Again, they would say that was a matter for the chairman, and again, they would be technically right. But given the stakes, wouldn’t one have thought Fletcher, in particular, might have sought to make direct contact?

Holgate’s appearance at the Senate inquiry not only gave a detailed insight into the behind-the-scenes events of that October day, but also revealed some of the arguments that had been going on about the future of Australia Post.

She produced part of a review by consultants BCG the government had commissioned, that canvassed cost-cutting measures and the possible sale of Post’s parcel section. She and the management team had pushed back against cutting services and jobs, and opposed divestiture.

So before the watches affair, the government was already – to a greater or lesser extent – irritated by the forceful head of this government business enterprise that some Liberals would like to see part or even fully privatised.

As speculation grew after her evidence about the BCG report, Fletcher on Wednesday said the government had no plans to sell off the parcels service – which performed strongly over the pandemic.

Anyway, probably any attempt to do so would run into vigorous resistance from the Nationals.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Matt Canavan on Holgate, Di Bartolomeo, and John Andersen


The government hasn’t released the BCG report. Obviously it canvasses important issues about the business and should be in the public domain.

But who is surprised? It is of a piece with this government’s penchant for secrecy, if it can get away with it (not that it’s alone among governments here).

It even tried to hold back the report into Holgate and the watches, until public pressure made that untenable.

Further afield, among the advantages, from the government’s point of view, of the national cabinet is that much more can be kept “in confidence” than in the old Council of Australian Governments days.

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick has a “test case” in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for the release of minutes from the national cabinet, which has been crucial in the pandemic decision-making process. Patrick says he “wants to expose the government’s secrecy overreach and to open the document vault for others to look in and see”.

Morrison this week talked about how Australia Post must be accountable. But his government likes to minimise the extent of its own accountability, especially when awkward issues surface.

It is worth remembering that if we didn’t have Senate inquiries like the Holgate one we would get even less information.




Read more:
If bullying can happen to Christine Holgate at the highest level, then what happens to other women at work?


Question time, at least in the House of Representatives, has become almost useless as a means of holding the government to account. There is a report imminent from a House committee about how to improve it, but you’d have to be an optimist to see a prospect of qualitative change.

But the Senate committee on COVID, the inquiry into the Holgate affair, and regular estimates hearings on a range of issues, have forced some transparency and accountability.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Christine Holgate presents a compelling story of Morrison’s bullying


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA wronged woman with a razor-sharp mind and meticulous records is a dangerous creature.

Especially when delivering a counter punch to a prime minister who’d denounced her in the bully pulpit of parliament when he was ill-informed, angry and driven by short-term politics rather than balanced judgement.

Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, appearing before a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, inflicted a serious blow on Scott Morrison and left Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo badly wounded.

She followed this with a Tuesday night interview on the ABC’s 7.30 in which she gave Morrison another blast, describing his attack on her as an “utter disgrace” and “one of the worst acts of bullying” she’d ever seen. She urged him to call her and apologise.

Holgate’s evidence, and that of Di Bartolomeo who followed her, revealed a chain of events in which she was not accorded any reasonable degree of fairness.

What happened after Holgate’s October 22 revelation (responding to a Labor question) at a Senate estimates hearing that four Post employees received Cartier watches as rewards for a big deal was a combination of over-reaction and weakness.

Morrison that afternoon raged in question time that Holgate had been instructed to stand aside, saying if she didn’t wish to, “she can go”.

Before and after his rant, two men – Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Di Bartolomeo – lacked the spine to stand up for her or, indeed, to follow a formal process.

Holgate told the Senate inquiry she had lost her job “because I was humiliated by our prime minister for committing no offence and then bullied by my own chairman”, who “unlawfully stood me down at the public direction of the prime minister. This made my leadership at Australia Post untenable and seriously threatened my health.” She said she became suicidal.

She was in a land of political and media hell not unfamiliar to some politicians but foreign to most business leaders.

The senators’ forensic examination of her downfall is coinciding with debates about both workplace behaviour and sexism, and Holgate (who dressed in a suffragette-white jacket) is putting her experiences in those contexts.

“I do not want what happened to me to happen to any individual ever again in any workplace,” she said.

Asked by Labor’s Kim Carr to what extent her treatment was a question of gender and to what extent one of politics, she said:

Senator, it’s a very hard question for me to answer […] but I think it would be fair to say I’ve never seen a media article comment about a male politician’s watch [there was much interest in the extremely expensive watch she wore at Senate estimates], and yet I was depicted as a prostitute for making those comments, humiliated.

I have never seen any male public servant depicted in that way. So do I believe it’s partially a gender issue? You’re absolutely right I do.

But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do.

That abuse of power started in the early afternoon of October 22, after the watches revelation and before Morrison’s outburst in question time.

Fletcher spoke twice to Di Bartolomeo. Fletcher told him there would be a review and “he wanted us to look at standing Christine down”.

Di Bartolomeo, by his own account, initially questioned whether standing her aside was necessary, but Fletcher insisted.

“I queried whether that was what he really wanted. He said, ‘Look, I am going to come back to you,’” which he did in the second call.

Holgate resisted standing aside, wanting instead to go on leave briefly. Di Bartolomeo took the matter to a hastily convened late afternoon meeting of the Australia Post Board. The board said she should stand aside, and made threatening noises about the consequences if she did not do so.

While Morrison told parliament Holgate had been “instructed” to stand aside, Di Bartolomeo said he had not taken Fletcher’s words as a “direction”.

Why would that be? Because if Fletcher, as one of the two shareholder ministers in Australia Post, had issued a “direction”, he would have had to go through a set process.

Fletcher, in his two pre-question time conversations with Di Bartolomeo, apparently didn’t mention whatever Morrison had said to him. We can presume the PM already had steam coming out of his ears.

A tough minister would have said to his PM, “Let’s say we will have the watches affair looked into and leave it at that for the moment.”

A Post chairman with gumption would have pushed back hard on the standing aside issue, either warning it would invite trouble or, if necessary, saying he wanted the minister to issue a formal direction.

Di Bartolomeo on Tuesday praised Holgate’s record as CEO and said she was “treated abysmally”, although he insisted “the board and management did the right thing by her”.

Yet, he handled the situation poorly on the first day, and no better in later days. His behaviour may not have been as black as Holgate paints it, but at every point he took the line of least resistance to government pressure.

A board that had backbone would have said, “Let’s all sleep on it, and assess the ‘stand aside’ demand when we’ve got the facts in perspective”.

None of them – minister, chairman, board – did these things.

The part played by one board member, however, did show concern for Holgate.

As she drove back to Sydney, increasingly upset and agitated, she had conversations with Tony Nutt, who advised her on her handling of the situation and on a potential statement.

Speaking about what happened to her, Holgate said in her evidence that Nutt, a former adviser to John Howard and a former Liberal party director, told her, “Christine, you need to understand it was the prime minister”.

While the full context of the reference is not entirely clear, Nutt had summed it up in one line.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.