Former Australia Post chief Christine Holgate has revealed her worst day during the Cartier watch scandal: the day she was portrayed in a national newspaper in a way she said made her look like a prostitute.
The former chief executive was fired from her job in 2020 when it emerged that she had gifted four Cartier watches to senior managers, with a total value of more than $20,000, as a reward for securing a deal with three major banks that would allow people to make banking operations in post offices.
An investigation subsequently found no indication of dishonesty, fraud, corruption or intentional misuse of Australia Post funds relating to the watches, and Ms Holgate was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Speaking candidly about the incident and the subsequent media scrutiny that left her suicidal at a Forbes event on Wednesday, Holgate said it was a cartoon drawn by David Rowe and published in the Australian Financial Review that shocked her the most.
The cartoon featured a disinterested former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, wearing several watches on his wrist, while Holgate was seen walking out the door behind him in a short white dress and red lipstick on her face.
Christine Holgate is interviewed by Forbes Australia Editor-in-Chief Sarah O’Carroll during the Power of Resilience talk at the Forbes Australia Women’s Summit at ICC Sydney.
The cartoon, by Australian Financial Review artist David Rowe, showed Holgate leaving a room.
‘I was depicted as a prostitute in a cartoon in a national newspaper. That wouldn’t have happened to a man,” Holgate said at the Forbes Australia Women’s Summit in Sydney on Wednesday.
Adding to the pain of the ordeal, Ms Holgate’s two nephews, the children of her late sister whom she views as ‘my children’, had also seen the cartoon.
‘How would you feel if you saw your sister or your mother portrayed as a prostitute in the newspaper for doing nothing wrong?’ she said.
“The pain I felt from the humiliation I caused the people I love was much deeper than any pain they could cause me.”
Morrison had yelled on the parliament floor ‘she can go’ when the watch purchases first came to light.
The AFR cartoon was titled ‘Cartier, When It’s Time to Go’ and showed Morrison wearing a watch with ‘Federal ICAC’ written on the dial.
After the cartoon was published, both the newspaper’s editor, Michael Stutchbury, and cartoonist Rowe denied that Holgate was depicted as a sex worker.
‘She is completely wrong on that. If you try to decipher the cartoon, it’s actually a criticism of Morrison with sports, Leppington Triangle, ICAC, focusing on him,” Stuchbury said. news.com.au in April 2021.
He’s walking out the door. There is no symbolism that you might have from a prostitute client image.
Rowe said the cartoon was only meant to criticize Morrison.
“Like most, I was horrified by Morrison’s position on the 22nd and drew the cartoon in response to that,” he said.
“Not everyone is into cartoons, but drawing a female public figure as a prostitute has never been part of my cartoon vocabulary and it makes me very sad to think that this is causing him unnecessary additional angst.”
Ms Holgate said the cartoon and the subsequent coverage left her extremely distraught.
At the time of the watch scandal, Ms Holgate told a query that she had heard of top performers being sent on overseas trips in the years before her tenure.
She said the practice of receiving watches for good performance was common at Australia Post, with some even receiving cars in previous years.
Upon learning of the bounty in 2021, then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament that the gifts were a disgrace.
Ms Holgate said she was treated ‘like a criminal’, ‘abandoned in a media storm’ and unfairly expelled against her will, leaving her suicidal and in need of medication for insomnia.
The same inquiry heard that Ms Holgate’s predecessor, Ahmed Fahour, who was chief executive from 2010 to 2017, spent thousands of dollars on six smartwatches valued at $579 each in 2015.
Ms Holgate said that despite the trauma of the debacle, she slowly pulled herself together and is now the CEO of Team Global Express, formerly known as Toll Global Express.
“One day I woke up and thought ‘fuck you motherfuckers,'” he told the Forbes summit.
“You feel incredibly lonely, but once you get to the ‘f**kb*****ds’ stage, you can raise your head.”
Ms Holgate went on to receive a $1 million payment from Australia Post