‘Humiliating’: Christine Holgate says she has not been told to stand down from Australia Post

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Embattled Australia Post boss Christine Holgate claims there are no legal grounds for standing her aside as chief executive and has accused the Prime Minister of humiliating her in Parliament.

In a statement released by her lawyers, Ms Holgate said she supported a "fair investigation", but that she had not been formally notified by the Australia Post board that she had been stood down.

Christine Holgate giving evidence about the purchase of four Cartier watches, worth $19,950 in total, at a Senate estimates hearing last week.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

"Ms Holgate has not had any proper notification that she has been stood down from her role, nor has she been informed as to why she should be stood down," the statement from Bryan Belling, partner at employment law firm Kingston Reid, said.

"Legally, in my opinion there are no grounds for Ms Holgate to be stood down, and "optics" not a legally-valid defence."

Mr Belling said Ms Holgate had also received no communication from either the government or the Australia Post board regarding the investigation launched last week into her decision to reward employees with Cartier watches worth $20,000.

The statement also referenced Prime Minister Scott Morrison's comments in Parliament last Thursday, saying it was "now exactly seven days since Ms Holgate was the subject of a humiliating answer during Question Time".

Announcing the federal government would investigate the watch purchases, Mr Morrison told the Parliament he was "shocked and appalled" and indicated Ms Holgate faced the sack if she did not stand aside, telling the Parliament "if she doesn't wish to do that, she can go".

The Prime Minister's office and Australia Post have both been contacted for comment.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said, "Questions about Ms Holgate's position are a matter for the board of Australia Post.”

Mr Belling, an employment lawyer of 25 years experience, said he had released the statement because he had failed to receive a response to these matters after writing separately to the board and chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo.

He said general employment law required the board to formally notify Ms Holgate that she has been stood down, and the grounds for doing so.

"This is the case under general employment law, as well as the specifics of Australia Post's own employment regulations. The board has failed to do so," Mr Belling said in the statement.

The scandal engulfing Ms Holgate erupted following a Senate estimates hearing last Thursday, where she gave evidence that her office had purchased Cartier watches for four senior employees in October 2018 as a reward for landing a major deal with three of the big four banks.

One source with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Ms Holgate received a letter from Mr Di Bartolomeo on Sunday thanking her for standing aside during the investigation.

However, the source said Ms Holgate had not agreed at any point to stand aside, but instead offered to go on annual leave on Thursday after her appearance at Senate estimates. The source said this had been laid out in legal correspondence sent from Holgate's team to the board.

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