10 November 2020

I second the motion. What we have before the House today is an attempted cheap shot by this government to attack the workers of Australia Post. This is a government business enterprise that is over 200 years old, and never has its brand been so tarnished as under this hapless minister for communications. It has gone from trusted brand to a hot mess under this minister. In the middle of a global health pandemic, the No. 1 priority of this minister was to use COVID as a premeditated exercise to cut services and attack the frontline workers of Australia Post, and that is an absolute disgrace. Imagine being on the cusp of a parcel boom unlike anything seen before. Rather than investing in growth, you look for ways to sneakily cut the jobs of essential workers in our postal service. This truly requires a level of incompetence that even I did not think this minister had.

On 22 October—the day that the Senate learnt that $12,000 worth of taxpayers' money, later revised to $20,000 of taxpayers money, had been spent on luxury watches—we had the spectacle of the minister and the Prime Minister coming in here and saying on this floor during question time that they were 'shocked', they were 'appalled' and they were 'concerned'. I have a few questions for them. Is the Prime Minister shocked or appalled that frontline postal workers are having to demand the presence of on-site counsellors to assist with mental health issues, including some who have pulled the pin on their employment, unable to keep up with workload demand because of these regulations and because of staff shortages? Is the Prime Minister shocked or appalled that postal workers are being forced to skip meal breaks and tea breaks and speed on footpaths and nature strips in order to complete their delivery runs, and still struggle to finish at all? Is the Prime Minister shocked or appalled that Australia Post was spending $3,000 of taxpayers money per day for 39 days on a reputation consultant? Of course he's not, and I'll tell you why. When it comes to Australia Post and what has been going on there, this Prime Minister is a tin pot of confected outrage. He is all spin and no substance, and Australians are seeing right through him and his hapless minister.

We know that the Prime Minister on that day effectively sacked the CEO of Australia Post on the floor of the parliament. That's effectively what he ended up doing. It's not just me saying that; that's commentators who are not on my side of politics. This Prime Minister wants us to think that he is acting on wasteful spending. But, like all of his governing, it's just a con. He's willing to throw a public servant under a bus but do absolutely nothing about the board of Australia Post who signed off on these decisions. The reason for that is that they are Liberal mates. If he really cared, if he really wanted to punish wasteful spending, then his communications minister would be the first one out the door for burning taxpayers' money on a second-rate dodgy NBN and a Western Sydney airport deal, which is now being investigated by the Federal Police. He would be the first out the door.

On top of this, the board, a board that is entrusted with the oversight of a cherished national institution, has literally been reduced to a dumping ground for Liberal Party hacks, mates and former politicians—people who really are occupying those benches simply because of where they stand in the Liberal Party hierarchy. You can imagine the scene: you walk into this meeting and you look around and you see all these Liberal Party hacks. You say: 'I'm sorry. I thought I'd walked into the Australia Post board meeting.' They say: 'No, you're in the right place. Don't go anywhere; you're in the right place.'

Finally, after being announced by the minister's media release on 21 April this year, we had Australia Post writing to members of parliament in mid-August saying that the alternate-day delivery model was only just coming into effect by 31 August. Regulations were announced on 21 April, the implementation was to be 31 August, and it still hasn't been implemented properly. If it was so urgent, why did four months have to elapse before it was actually put into effect—and not even put into effect properly? Why did it take four months to do it? This is a joke. We have a minister for communications who doesn't even know what postal workers do. He can't be straight with the public. We have a $1.3 million review into Australia Post that this government refuses to release. One of those reports was the basis of the excuse to use COVID as a cover to cut postal services and cut postal workers' jobs. It's an absolute disgrace.

That is why Labor is seeking to disallow these regulations: because this government needs to get a clear message that COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to sneak through premeditated, existing agendas. That's an important principle. But it's not just me who has concerns with these regulations. Indeed, on that day, 22 October, we found out that Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells had moved a motion in the Senate seeking to disallow her own minister's regulations. So it's not just us on this side of the House; it is the Liberal Party that has a problem with this embattled minister and these ridiculous regulations that should never have been brought in. It's not only Senator Fierravanti-Wells who has a problem with them either; we have the Deputy Leader of the Nationals on the record complaining about regional parcel pricing. We had, on Queensland election night, Senator McDonald complaining about the timeliness of mail deliveries when she was discussing some conspiracy theory about the election result and postal votes. Well, maybe she'd like to know that she is a member of the party that voted for intrastate deliveries to go from three business days to a full seven days. She votes for it and then complains about it.

There is a deadset rap sheet on this minister when it comes to the shenanigans at Australia Post. They printed, then shredded, six million DL postcards that posties were supposed to deliver that conveyed political messaging from the government. Posties refused, rightly, to deliver it, and they had to pulp them—six million DLs! They spent $900,000 on indoor plants at their Melbourne head office over a two-year period. During the period from January to July this year—during COVID—they spent $85,000 on events, entertainment, gifts and other experiences. They hired, as I said, this $3,000-a-day spin doctor who previously advised on James Hardie. We then, as I said, also had the spending on luxury watches for already highly remunerated senior executives. Let's not forget the sending of stubby holders to people in public housing during lockdown in Melbourne. That intervention will be a topic for another day.

From this minister, there has been absolutely no accountability, no accountability whatsoever. He was asked in the media, 'What do you think about the moves for Australia Post to hire this PR consultant, a crisis manager, spin manager?' What did the minister say? He said, 'These are decisions for board and management.' So, one minute, these are 'decisions for board and management'; next minute, they are 'shocked and appalled' by what's going on. Well, the only thing that is shocking and appalling is the way the Australia Post brand has been tarnished under this hapless minister. It should come as no surprise that we are here today. The minister has said that these regulations before the House were intended to be temporary changes. But we know what they were really meant to be: permanent cuts that bypassed consultation. Cutting services was the agenda of their secret $1.3 million Boston Consulting Group report. The evolving explanations about these service cuts just go on and on. There is absolutely no consistency when it comes to this minister and when it comes to these regulations.

This government has opportunistically used COVID as an excuse to cut services and attack the jobs of one in four postal workers. At a time when the company should have been investing in growth, they were trying to cut jobs. A functioning board would not have let this occur. But we don't have a functioning board; it is a dysfunctional swamp of Liberal Party hacks. We have a minister and a Prime Minister, with all their confected outrage, doing nothing about it. Meanwhile, all Australians want is good services and to get their deliveries on time.