10 June 2020



SUBJECT: Government’s Australia Post regulation changes

LEON BYNER, HOST: A story we started talking about yesterday but we’ve been receiving calls for a while is the fact that the national mail monopoly – Australia Post – which by the way you still own, it is not a private consortium, it’s the taxpayer. They’re cutting metro and other delivery services in half because they’re redeploying staff to handle the parcels boom. There are also delays in regional mail, with five days the normal for interstate mail.

Now, I’m sure that a lot of people find this unsatisfactory, and might I add, that the people most vulnerable – that is the disabled, the infirm and other who do not use cyberspace or the internet – are the ones most disadvantaged here. No one has said anything about that yet. But for me, Australia Post has a cheek and can I tell you why? 2,000 posties have been retrained to deliver parcels instead of mail, swapping their bikes for vans and positions within Australia Post warehouses.  In fact, we had reports from the CEPU yesterday that mail is being put on desks or underneath desks and just held because Australia Post has arbitrarily decided it prefers parcels.

Now they didn't ask your permission to do this. The regulation was just changed but it's now going to be disallowed. I'd love to get your take on this because there's another issue as well and that is that people that go to Australia Post, they’ll accept money for fast delivery, but they'll tell you “well, you might be paying for this but it won't be delivered”. So, what they're doing in fact is not lawful because if a private business tried that on, you’d have Fair Trading all over them.

So, why is Australia Post any different? This might well be one of the questions that they ought to answer if there is a select committee of inquiry. Let's talk to the Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Michelle, tell us what's happened overnight. We understand that you're going to disallow the regulation

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well Leon, we are going to move that the regulation be disallowed. So, what happens in terms of parliamentary processes is that when regulations are changed, they effectively stay in place until the Parliament disallows them and the Parliament need to vote on that. We have taken the decision that these changes to Australia Post delivery standards which, as you say effectively halve the delivery frequency of postal services, should be disallowed. We're deeply concerned that COVID-19 is being used as a cover for some long-term, detrimental changes to Australia Post impacting on jobs and on service delivery. We are calling on Senators and Members to support this disallowance for those reasons.

BYNER: Now if that disallowance gets up, what does that mean in effect? Does Australia Post get forced to go back to daily delivery?

ROWLAND: Well, what it will do is it will take it back to the community service obligation standards as they were previously. But what we would like to see is the regulation shelved now. Australia Post in our view needs to return to the table, discuss options with workers and unions but also affected industry because, as you rightly point out, many people still rely on the postal service more than many other types of services. And this is a consensus approach that has worked successfully in the past.

BYNER: Look, I want to also make the point that people have told us that they’ve paid for quicker delivery of a letter or documents and they've basically been told “well, you can pay this, but you're not going to get it”. In which case, they shouldn’t be charging it, should they?

ROWLAND: Absolutely and that is highly unsatisfactory and again it points to the sad reality that in some cases the good name, and it is a trusted name of Australia Post, is actually one that is not trusted. Australians own this government business enterprise. We want to ensure that it continues to deliver on those very basic quality standards. I mean if you pay for something, you ought to receive that good or service, full stop, whatever it is.

But beyond that Leon we need to be forward looking about how Australia Post in the post-COVID world can actually be leveraged to the benefit of all Australians. I mean, it's a logistics company, a technology company, banking service; it really is a national asset. It's time to capitalise on those strengths and ensuring that we have those basic service standards for the benefit of all Australians is fundamental.

BYNER: When is the disallowance going to happen?

ROWLAND: Well, that will be a matter for the Parliament, Leon. Parliament, as you know, is already going back today. So, it depends on some of the timing but I'm certainly, and Labor is certainly calling on, all Senators including all South Australians Senators and Members, to listen to this argument, to support this and examine the merits in impacts of alternative approaches because it's not good enough that this came in without any consultation and the fear is that these changes will be irreversible as a result of the regulation.

BYNER: Is there a push to privatise part or all of Australia Post?

ROWLAND: Well one would be very concerned Leon. Indeed, it is the parcel section of Australia Post that is generating the majority revenues and we know for a fact that letters have been on the decline for some time. It is equally concerning that the Government is looking at parcels surging and yet Australia Post is talking about jobs being cut. It just doesn't add up and this is a government business enterprise that your listeners own. Around the world, you've got companies like Amazon, even in Australia you've got domestic grocery services that are looking towards the future and investing in these areas. We should be investing in ensuring Australia Post serves Australians better.

BYNER: Michelle, thank you. That's Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Communications Minister.