Australia Post chairman must go after giant fail - By TERRY MCCRANN

Australia Post chairman must go after giant fail

The chairman of Australia Post Lucio Di Bartolomeo must resign. His position is now completely untenable.

In allowing the prime minister to suspend – and indeed directly threaten the sacking of – AusPost’s CEO Christine Holgate, Di Bartolomeo has failed his most fundamental responsibilities as chairman.

It cannot be in the best interests of AusPost and indeed of its shareholder to be unnecessarily — and I would argue, actually inappropriately — deprived of its CEO for four weeks at this utterly critical time as we emerge from anti-virus lockdowns and count down to Christmas, purely on what can only be described as the hysterical whim of the PM.

Indeed Di Bartolomeo specifically acknowledged how critical this time was in a statement last Friday and I quote: “In light of the expected more than 50 per cent growth in parcel delivery it will be the most challenging period in the history of the organisation”.

Let me try to inform Di Bartolomeo of his core obligation as AusPost chairman.

It is to oversee the effective governance of the corporation in the best interests of its shareholder, which is the Australian government and not an individual named Scott Morrison even if that individual is the PM.

There is simply no valid basis for the boardto require Holgate to stand down or to approve her volunteering to stand down — as either way AusPost is unnecessarily/inappropriately being deprived of its CEO.

And to whom, further, AusPost will be paying — and most appropriately, paying – over $100,000 while she’s not working.

As I asked last week and which the chairman doesn’t seem to have asked or even understood: on what possible basis is it necessary or appropriate for her to stand down?

Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo. Picture: AAP
Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo. Picture: AAP

Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate. Picture: Gary Ramage
Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate. Picture: Gary Ramage

The government is perfectly entitled to behave stupidly — to spend some multiple of the $20,000 AusPost spent on what are now the most ridiculously infamous Cartier watches in our entire history, to find out what exactly?

That two years ago — not, as the overly-hysterical media suggested, right now in this year of plague — AusPost spent $20,000 to give four executives a ‘thank-you’ for sealing a deal worth $66m-plus for AusPost and for its owner, the taxpayer?

The PM and communications minister Paul Fletcher are outraged — and I mean outraged — at this misspending of taxpayer money. So their ‘answer’ is to misspend perhaps five or ten times as much on a useless inquiry.

Yes, the inquiry has been tricked up to include other areas of alleged misspending by Holgate on travel and pot plants — although the prima facie evidence there again is that while it might have been over-spending, it is yet to be proved to have been misspending.

I await the subsequent Royal Commission into spending on pot plants across the public sector and government. Nothing less will do to root out such flagrant extravagance.

Does Di Bartolomeo actually understand the role of chairman?

Three statements were issued under his name last week. Not one of them made any attempt to explain why Holgate was standing aside and on what basis.

Was she instructed by the board? Did she volunteer and if so why did the board accept it? Or was it simply taken as ‘read’ after the PM’s hysteria?

Whichever it was the board had only one course: to require her to continue working unless and until at least some evidence that she had acted improperly or even inappropriately was provided.

Di Bartolomeo needs to understand that the chairman of any corporation whether privately or government owned cannot be ordered by its shareholder/shareholders to do anything – far less something that is clearly against the best interests of the corporation like suspending the CEO.

Far less, should a board accept such an order from an individual, even the PM; doing so makes him unfit to continue as chairman.

The AusPost Act makes it crystal clear that, yes, the “minister” can direct the board.

But that direction must be afterconsultation with the board and relate to the “performance of Australia Post’s functions as appear to the Minister to be necessary in the public interest”.

I would argue that suspending the CEO in these circumstances clearly fails that test.

Allowing it to happen, to the detriment of AusPost and to the public interest, means Di Bartolomeo must go.