Four members of the nine-member board – Michael Ronaldson, Tony Nutt, Bruce McIver and Deidre Willmott – have strong links to the Liberal Party, having served either in Parliament or in an official capacity.
Mr Di Bartolomeo’s attendance at this week’s hearing was demanded by the federal opposition following revelations the board was poised to approve more than $7 million in personal bonuses to its executive directors despite the coronavirus-induced recession.
His predecessor, John Stanhope, appeared before the committee in early 2017, after it emerged former chief executive Ahmed Fahour received a $10.8 million pay packet in his final year.
Mr Fahour’s successor, current chief executive Christine Holgate, has also been subject to a number of controversies, including her intervention to ensure more than 110 Pauline Hanson’s One Nation stubby holders were delivered to the residents of a locked-down Melbourne public housing tower in July.
Mr Di Bartolomeo declined the initial request to appear on September 25 as well as subsequent offers to appear at a spillover hearing either in person or by video conference. Requests for his deputy or another board member to appear were also declined, instead inviting senators to write to the chairman.
A spokesman for Australia Post said on Sunday “a number” of Australia Post senior executives would attend the estimates hearing, including Ms Holgate.
“The chairman is unable to attend due to a personal family health matter,” the spokesman said.
In a joint statement, opposition communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and government accountability spokeswoman Kimberley Kitching said Labor had sought to have a representative of the board appear for the past month.
“This is what a witness protection program looks like. This dysfunctional board signed off on a pre-conceived Liberal plan to cut services and one-in-four postal worker jobs. They must be held to account,” the said.
“Australia Post is a 200-year-old institution that belongs to the Australian people — not the Liberal Party.”
The organisation’s annual report, released last Friday afternoon, revealed it handed out $92 million in bonuses to staff in a year where postage prices were increased and delivery times were substantially delayed.
The government-owned business’s incentives bill went up from $83.7 million, even after its highly-paid executives agreed to forgo their six-figure benefits because of the pandemic.
Ms Holgate received $1.6 million, after taking a voluntary 20 per cent pay cut and but received a $831,375 bonus from the previous year.
Mr Di Bartolomeo wrote that it was “a difficult decision” to suspend executive bonuses.
“This reflected the extraordinary circumstances of the nation,” he said.
“Like any board, we understand that our remuneration decisions need to take account of stakeholder and community expectations — and that imperative is amplified by our status as a government business enterprise.”
Australia Post delivered a $53.6 million profit before tax, beating its $15 million target, after a 17.9 per cent increase in parcel deliveries during the pandemic boosted revenue by $567 million.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra