Employment Minister Stuart Robert has said it was “probably unwise” for Christine Holgate to have bought four Cartier watches for Australia Post executives, during a tense exchange with ABC host David Speers on Sunday.
Mr Robert was appearing on ABC’s Insiders program when asked about Ms Holgate, the former Australia Post chief executive who stood aside last year after revealing she used a company credit card in 2018 to reward four senior executives luxury Cartier watches.
Ms Holgate bought the executives the watches, valued at $12,000 each, for securing a lucrative deal, rather than issuing up to $150,000 in bonuses, which the policy would have allowed for.
An independent report later found she broke no policies, but did not act within certain guidelines of her role.
Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison slammed the move in parliament and pushed for Ms Holgate’s resignation.
Ms Holgate this week told a senate inquiry she contemplated suicide as a result of the bullying and intimidation she endured.
Mr Robert was asked about the issue by Insiders host David Speers, but attempted to dodge the line of questioning.
“I‘m not going to get into the Christine Holgate issue; it is one job and I’m focused on thousands of jobs,” he said.
But Mr Speers pressed Mr Robert and asked if he shared the Prime Minister’s thoughts.
“Nice (attempt to deflect) … this has been an important issue of the week,” Speers said. “Are you sharing the Prime Minister’s view that what she did was appalling and disgraceful?”
“I wasn’t across it,” Mr Robert responded.
Mr Speers interjected: “It is not a lot to be across here. It’s not a detailed question. She bought some Cartier watches for four employees worth 20 grand in total. Was that appalling?”
“It was probably unwise for a government business enterprise to do that,” Mr Robert said. “I think that point has been well made and then of course it was independently investigated.”
Scott Morrison said this week he regretted the distress his “strong language” in parliament last year had caused Holgate, but refused to apologise.
He said he still believed the Cartier gifts were inappropriate, but denied his treatment of her was a gender issue.
“This was about taxpayer organisations handing out Cartier watches to well-paid executives. This has nothing to do with gender,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Robert was also asked whether at-home isolation could become an option for vaccinated Australians who need to travel overseas for essential reasons and return without having to hotel quarantine.
Mr Robert confirmed it was a viable option and suggested police house visits could be a measure to monitor self-isolation.
“I spent three or four months in home quarantine as we travelled as a cabinet minister during the pandemic last year,” he said.
“The police could turn up at random times and health department would call; those were some of the things put in place to deal with that issue.”