Ex-Australia Post boss Christine Holgate has revealed her worst day during her Cartier watch scandal – when she was portrayed in a national newspaper cartoon in a way she said made her look like a prostitute.
The former CEO was ousted out of her job in 2020 when it emerged she had gifted four Cartier watches to senior managers – worth more than $20,000 in total – as a reward for securing a deal with three major banks that would allow people to do banking in post offices.
An investigation later 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 subsequent media scrutiny that left her suicidal at a Forbes event on Wednesday, Ms Holgate said it was a cartoon drawn by David Rowe and published in the Australian Financial Review that shocked her the most.
The cartoon depicted an uninterested former prime minister Scott Morrison with several watches around his wrist while Ms Holgate was seen walking out the door behind him in a short dress white dress with red lipstick smeared across 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
‘I was depicted as a prostitute in a cartoon in a national newspaper. That wouldn’t have happened to a man,’ Ms 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 sons of her late sister who she sees as ‘my boys’, had also seen the cartoon.
‘How would you feel if you saw your sister or mother depicted as a prostitute in the newspaper for doing no wrong?’ she said.
‘The hurt I felt for the humiliation I brought to people I love was much deeper than any pain they could do to me.’
Mr Morrison had shouted on the floor of parliament ‘she can go’ when the purchases of the watches first came to light.
The AFR’s cartoon was titled ‘Cartier, when it’s time to go’ and showed Mr Morrison with one watch that had ‘Federal ICAC’ written across its face.
After the cartoon was published, both the newspaper’s editor Michael Stutchbury and cartoonist Mr Rowe denied Ms Holgate was depicted to look like a sex worker.
‘She’s just completely wrong on that. If you try and decode the cartoon it’s really a critique of Morrison with sports rorts, Leppington Triangle, ICAC, it’s focused on him,’ Mr Stuchbury told news.com.au in April, 2021.
‘She’s walking out the door. There is none of the symbolism that you might have of a prostitute client image.’
Mr Rowe said the cartoon was only meant to be critical of Mr Morrison.
‘Like most, I was as appalled at Morrison’s position on the 22nd and drew the cartoon in response to that,’ he said.
‘Not everyone likes a caricature, but drawing a female public figure as a prostitute has never been part of my cartoon vocabulary and I’m really sad to think this is giving her additional unnecessary distress.’
Ms Holgate said the cartoon and the subsequent coverage left her extremely distressed
At the time of the watch scandal, Ms Holgate told an inquiry that she had heard of high-performing staff being sent on overseas trips in the years before her tenure.
She said the practice of receiving watches for strong performance was common at Australia Post, and some were even given cars in previous years.
On hearing about the reward in 2021, then-prime minister Scott Morrison told Parliament the gifts were a disgrace.
Ms Holgate said she was treated ‘like a criminal’, ‘abandoned to a media firestorm’ and wrongfully ousted against her will, leaving her suicidal and needing insomnia medication.
The same inquiry heard that Ms Holgate’s predecessor, Ahmed Fahour, who was CEO from 2010 to 2017, spent thousands on six smart watches valued at $579 each in 2015.
Ms Holgate said despite the trauma of the debacle, she slowly managed to pull through, and is now the CEO of Team Global Express, formerly known as Toll Global Express.
‘One day I woke up and thought ”f**k you b***ards”,’ she said at the Forbes summit.
‘You feel incredibly alone but once you get to the ”f**k you b*****ds” stage, you can put your head up.’
Ms Holgate went on to receive a $1million payout from Australia Post
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