Oz Post boss stood down over scandal
Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has been ordered to stand down while an investigation is conducted into $12,000 of expenditure on Cartier watches for senior executives.
The cash splash was revealed during a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told parliament he was "shocked and concerned" after learning 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 hold an independent investigation into the matter and conduct of board members, their governance, and the actions of the management and executives involved.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if Ms Holgate refuses to stand down "she can go".
"I was appalled and it is disgraceful and not on," Mr Morrison said.
Ms Holgate on Thursday 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 who had worked on its Bank@Post deal had been recognised 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.
"They were a Cartier watch of about a value of $3000 each.
"I didn't actually purchase them. They were organised through my office on behalf of the chair and I."
Australia Post executive general manager of business, government and international Gary Starr received a watch.
During the hearing, Labor senator Kimberley Kitching asked Mr Starr if he was wearing the watch.
"No, I'm not," he said.
Chief financial officer Rodney Boys was unable to tell the committee what corporate credit card the watches, which were bought from a Melbourne store in October 2018, were bought on.
Australia Post is a government-owned business.
The finding of the investigation into the watch scandal will be reported back to Mr Morrison and his Cabinet.
"(If) there are issues to be addressed with board members, then they will be addressed then," the PM said.
"We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people."
Opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the gifts to highly paid executives were "unacceptable" and the board "must be cleaned up".
"Australia Post is a cherished national institution and it must set a high standard," she said.
"Today's evidence that $12,000 was used on luxury watches does not meet that test."
SEND YOUR CHRISTMAS CARDS EARLY
Australia Post says it is preparing for a "Christmas like no other".
Letters including Christmas cards are expected to be delivered within five business days for intrastate mail.
Interstate letters aim to be delivered in up to five business days between metro areas of capital cities, up to six business days between metro areas of capital cities and country locations, and up to seven business days between country locations.
But Australia Post does want people to send their Christmas cards early this year.
Parcels should be sent by Saturday, December 12 for Christmas delivery via regular post and by Saturday, December 19 for express post.
"This year's Christmas shopping could be worth more than $4bn with consumers predicting they will spend more online by about 25 per cent," Ms Holgate said.
"We will be employing more than 5000 additional employees to deliver customers parcels, helping contact centres and in-office.
"We will get more stops to SA, Tasmania, Northern Territory and Perth, as we want to help ensure all Australians have a good Christmas."
Australia Post plans to open 47 extra delivery sites and 30 more post offices.
Ms Holgate also said it would be introducing more options for people and customers to collect their parcels and improve customer notifications.
However, she said their delivery standard cannot yet be guaranteed.
"There is significant restrictions currently … Qantas still operating at 20 per cent, we have challenges with the bus companies and the trains," she said.
"We could not meet those timetables and it'd be misleading for us to say we could."
Originally published as Oz Post boss stood down over scandal