Holgate sacrificed for Coalition “blue bloods”: The smoking gun
The Prime Minister spectacularly throws Australia Post’s Christine Holgate “under the bus”. The next morning, vastly more serious news emerges. But it’s the Holgate Cartier watches “scandal” that predictably dominates the news cycle. The Holgate attacks, and their timing, were no coincidence. Anthony Klan reports.
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When the Coalition launched its extraordinary attacks on Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate last October – over an incident which occurred two years earlier – it knew it was on the cusp of being engulfed in a completely separate major scandal of its own.
Serious corruption had occurred at the very top of the nation’s corporate corruption watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
The Holgate “scandal” – which involved no illegality or wrongdoing of any kind – vastly overshadowed the real scandal at the heart of ASIC – which did.
The ASIC scandal directly involved ASIC chair James Shipton (appointed under then Treasurer Scott Morrison) and deputy chair Daniel Crennan QC (appointed under Treasurer Josh Frydenberg).
Both Shipton, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and son of a Liberal MP, and Crennan, a barrister and serial mining company director, are prominent so-called Liberal “blue-bloods”.
By October, behind-the-scenes, the government had long been desperately tying to cover-up the ASIC scandal – official concerns had first been raised over a year earlier, in August 2019.
Shipton and Crennan, while running the nation’s corporate corruption regulator, had received almost $200,000 in allegedly illegal “relocation” benefits.
That’s the equivalent of 40 Cartier watches.
By October 22 , the day Holgate was “thrown under the bus” and (seemingly inexplicably) viciously attacked in Federal Parliament by the Prime Minister, the Coalition had run completely out of time.
Fed-up and highly concerned the high-level ASIC cover-up would continue, the Auditor-General launched a rare – if ever before used – legal manoeuvre to ensure the public would finally be alerted to the extremely serious ASIC matters.
The morning after the Holgate attacks, on Friday October 23, the Federal Government disclosed the ASIC matters for the first time.
But in stark contrast to the explosive, and baseless, Holgate attacks the day before, the ASIC disclosure – a terse media release published to Frydenberg’s website – was vastly understated.
It was also highly misleading.
The Coalition indicated – and led the nation to believe – that it had only just been made aware of the extremely serious ASIC matters.
On October 23, in a ten sentence press release, Frydenberg wrote that he had “received correspondence” the day before “bringing to my attention” the allegations regarding Shipton and Crennan.
“On 22 October 2020 I received correspondence from the Auditor-General for Australia bringing to my attention matters that he identified while conducting an audit of ASIC’s annual financial statements,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wrote.
This explained why the Coalition was making the announcement now.
But on October 23, The Klaxon can reveal, the Coalition had not only known of the ASIC scandal for some time, but documents prove it had actually, secretly, launched its own “review” into the matter over a week earlier.
It had officially contracted the review, at a cost of $50,000.
On October 23 Frydenberg wrote:
“On 22 October 2020 I received correspondence from the Auditor-General for Australia bringing to my attention matters that he identified while conducting an audit of ASIC’s annual financial statements.
“I have asked the Treasury to undertake an independent review into the findings of the ANAO financial statements audit.
“I have written to ASIC and the Auditor-General confirming this course of action. The independent review will be undertaken by Dr Vivienne Thom,” Frydenberg wrote.
But AusTender documents (the Federal Government’s tender site, where all procurements over $10,000 must be disclosed) show Frydenberg had already launched the Vivienne Thom review – over a week earlier on October 15.
The Vivienne Thom “review” had already been underway for a week before the Coalition’s attacks on Holgate. Source: AusTender
Treasury has confirmed the Thom review was officially contracted on October 15 – the week before the Holgate attacks – but has declined to comment further.
Holgate had been asked about the Cartier watch bonuses at a senate committee, just after 11.30am on October 22.
The questions came from Labor senator Kimberley Kitching.
A review of the footage shows Kitching reading from notes in front of her, at times stumbling.
It is clear she is not entirely across the specifics of the information in front of her.
Kitching’s questioning lasts for nine minutes – before she moves on to a question about the delivery timing of Christmas parcels – and is relatively unremarkable.
It’s often the case that politically motivated information is provided to committee members from anonymous sources.
It’s also the case that entities, such as the Communication Workers Union, are themselves contacted with anonymous tip-offs, which they then share with committee members.
It is not known where Kitching obtained the information about the 2018 Cartier watch purchases – other than it came from within Australia Post.
Yet the bullishness of Morrison’s actions that same day suggest he had been pre-briefed on the disclosure.
By his own admission, “within an hour” of Holgate making the comments, Morrison had rallied other senior Coalition MPs, “immediately speaking” with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and the then Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
By 2.30pm – despite providing zero evidence, and ostensibly having no other information than the handful of sound bites from Holgate three hours earlier – he was standing before parliament.
The Australia Post CEO – who Morrison was yet to ask for her side of the story, and who had never before had concerns raised regarding the watch bonuses – “has been instructed to stand aside – and, if she doesn’t wish to do that, she can go”.
Morrison, whose Coalition had voted against holding a Royal Commission into banking more than 20 times, says he told Fletcher and Cormann – again “within an hour” of Holgate’s comments – that the matter was “disgraceful”, “it’s not on” and that “there had to be an independent investigation done”.
Almost immediately, Fletcher and Cormann issued a joint media statement announcing the Holgate inquiry (which later found Holgate had done nothing wrong).
If the Coalition was not already aware of the Holgate Cartier watch issue before the morning of October 22, then it made remarkably swift footwork of turning it into a major scandal – a and one that would dramatically overshadow the impending ASIC scandal it knew was set to explode.
The Communication Workers Union and Kitching have not responded to requests for comment over the past week.
Vivienne Thom had been Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security until 2015, when she took a senior role with private “workplace investigations” company CPM Reviews, based in Canberra.
Her “review” into the ASIC scandal was conducted through her employer CPM Reviews.
The revelations show that on October 22 – when Holgate suffered a co-ordinated, multi-pronged attacked from Morrison, Fletcher and Cormann – the Coalition knew it was sitting on a time-bomb.
Predictably – almost entirely because of the “unexplained” attacks from Morrison and other key Coalition MPs – the Holgate “scandal” dominated the media cycle.
It heavily overshadowed the vastly more serious ASIC matters, involving allegations of serious wrongdoing by the two men running the nation’s corporate corruption regulator – positions demanding the highest levels of ethics, corporate governance and integrity.
At Australia Post, Holgate had given the four Cartier watches – legally and well within company guidelines – to other executives.
She herself had received no benefit.
By contrast, the illegal benefits to Shipton and Crennan – the equivalent of 40 Cartier watches – had gone to those men personally.
The Holgate scandal served as the perfect smokescreen.
How Christine Holgate was “thrown under the bus” by the Coalition. Source: The Klaxon
Frydenberg has never released the findings of the Thom Review, which he received on December 17.
Rather, six weeks later on January 29, he released a redacted and re-written version, which was instead “prepared by Treasury”.
Despite providing no evidence to back his claim (and the fact that even Treasury’s doctored version of Thom’s report highly indicated otherwise) Frydenberg on January 29 cleared Shipton of any wrongdoing.
He said it had made “no adverse findings” against either Shipton or Crennan.
That claim is despite the review itself containing key evidence that the $118,557 ASIC paid for Shipton’s personal “tax advice” was over 60 times the legal limit.
Immediately, and without explanation, Thom resigned from CPM Reviews, her employer of several years.
Shipton remains in charge at ASIC, earning a salary of over $800,000 a year, and has faced zero penalties. (Frydenberg has said Shipton will be replaced, but has not said why, given Frydenberg claims Shipton has done nothing wrong).
Crennan left ASIC after the scandal finally broke on October 23.
But despite he himself admitting the almost $69,621 in rent he personally received was against the law – and the fact that ASIC covered it up for over a year – Crennan has also faced no penalties.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
More to come….
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