Australia Post chair says Cartier watches given as gifts cost nearly $20,000, not $12,000

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Australia Post has revealed four luxury watches bought for senior employees cost almost $20,000 — nearly double the amount initially told to Parliament.

Key points:

  • The watches, initially said to be worth $12,000, are the subject of a Government investigation
  • Australia Post’s chief executive stood aside on Thursday, saying the watches had been purchased “on behalf of the board”
  • But on Friday Australia Post’s chair said the board had no involvement

Senate Estimates was on Thursday told four executives each received a Cartier watch — worth a combined $12,000 — as a “thank you” gift for securing a lucrative contract.

But on Friday, Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo issued a statement saying the watches cost $7,000, $4,750, $4,400 and $3,800, for a total of $19,950.

Australia Post’s chief executive Christine Holgate stood aside on Thursday after the Federal Government announced an investigation into the gifts.

Ms Holgate told the Senate hearing on Thursday the decision to purchase the gifts was made on behalf of “the chair, myself, and on behalf of the board.”

But Friday Mr Di Bartolomeo said the board, which he heads, was not involved.

“The board was advised at today’s meeting that a check of board papers and minutes from this period show the then-board was not asked to approve or note the purchase of those Cartier watches,” he said.

“The board was further advised today that these papers and minutes do not record any subsequent reference to the purchase.”

The issue sparked a furore on Thursday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he was “appalled” and that the gifts were “disgraceful and not on”.

The Departments of Finance and Communications will conduct the investigation with help from an external law firm.

The actions of Australia Post’s board members will also be examined, and a report is expected to be presented to Cabinet within four weeks, which the Opposition wants made public.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said the Government was seeking legal advice about whether Ms Holgate should continue to receive her $27,000a-week salary while the investigation takes place.

He also defended the decision to launch the inquiry, saying every government agency chief executive was now on notice.

“There wouldn’t be a board member of a government agency or a CEO of a government agency that didn’t get my message yesterday,” he said.

“I think they got it with a rocket and so my advice to them — is to get it.”

Mr Morrison said he would wait to see the findings of the investigation before considering whether a broader audit of remuneration for government appointees was required.

Thursday’s Senate Estimates hearing was also told that Australia Post had paid more than $97 million in bonuses to its workers over the past year, with those in senior positions getting the majority of the cash.

On Friday, the chair of Australia’s corporate watchdog ASIC James Shipton announced he would step aside after it was revealed the organisation paid more than $118,000 for him to receive personal tax advice.

That payment is also the subject of an independent government inquiry.

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