Australia Post says it will fully cooperate with an investigation into the decision to give four $3000 Cartier watches to senior staff as a reward for a deal to do banking in post offices.
Group CEO and managing director Christine Holgate will stand aside during the investigation, triggered after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was informed of evidence given at a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.
Rodney Boys, the chief financial officer of the government-owned business, will act in the role during the investigation.
“The Australia Post board and management team will fully cooperate with the recently announced investigation to be conducted by shareholder departments,” chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo said in a statement.
“We remain committed to delivering for our important stakeholders – our people, our post office partners, our customers and the community.”
The investigation will be conducted by the federal communications and finance departments, supported by an external law firm, and take four weeks to complete.
Mr Morrison said the gifts were disgraceful and appalling.
“She’s been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t do that, she can go,” he told parliament.
Senators spent almost four hours questioning Ms Holgate and her senior colleagues during the hearing.
Performance bonuses worth almost $100 million and posties speeding on footpaths because of soaring workload were also scrutinised.
Union leaders slammed Australia Post’s leadership over the watches.
CPSU deputy national president Brooke Muscat said members had taken a pay freeze while working harder during the pandemic.
“How are they rewarded? Not with a watch or a bonus I can tell you that,” she said.
The estimates hearing was told the total value of incentives was $97.4 million in the 2019/20 financial year.
More than $60 million flowed to 2500 employees involved in the corporate incentive plan, ranging from senior staff to general managers.
A further $21.6 million was “thank you” payments for frontline workers including posties, drivers and processors, while $5.6 million was spent on gift cards for contractors and licensees.
Australia Post’s people and culture executive general manager Susan Davies defended the incentive payments.
“I’ve never seen the amount of volume that’s come through. We’ve worked in extremely difficult circumstances.”