22 July 2020


SUBJECT: Australia Post.
LEON BYNER, HOST: I have a personal view that instrumentalities and those statutory authorities that are there to provide service for which we pay our taxes should always be in the hands of the taxpayer. I know there has been a lot of temptation to corporatise them and then somehow try and sell them off when they’re not yours to sell off. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this but it’s true: if we own an instrumentality, it is held in trust by the government of the day. They have  no authority to dispose of it because it wasn’t theirs in the first place.
Now, having established that, Australia Post is paying for a confidential security program to protect its sensitive information because there has been a series of leaks that reveal that the company is considering slowing letter delivery times and replacing post offices with automated kiosks. Now, I’ve got to tell you: just on those two premises, where is the competition? Is somebody else doing to put in post office kiosks? No, they would have to have a license. Where would they get that from? You got it. So, this idea of commercial-in-confidence, I’m sorry, pull the other leg, pull the other leg!
Now, this is a Senate inquiry where witnesses have got to give evidence on oath about the future of Australia’s postal service and they got government permission to lower the service to save money as letter volumes plummeted, right? Under a grilling from Senator Kim Carr – he’s a warhorse, I like him – during a Senate committee hearing on the 8 July, the Chief Executive was repeatedly asked whether the Government-owned company was monitoring senior staff members. Well yes they are. They’re worried about leaked information that could be commercial-in-confidence. Now, when you’ve already got a monopoly, when you already are the regulator, when you already are a statutory authority, I’m just trying to figure out where is the commercial-in-confidence? Well, there are other people who deliver parcels.
So, let’s talk to the Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland. Michelle, where is this all going?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I think it’s going in a couple of directions, Leon, all of them very pertinent to some of the points you just made. I think the first is in terms of service standards. As you’d be well aware – you and I have had this discussion and your listeners would be aware – that the Government’s decided to basically halve the delivery service standards in April on the premise that COVID was making it impossible to meet those service standards and they needed to change. We’ve had a Senate inquiry underway into this, as you’ve mentioned, and I think what has been clear in this is that there is evidence that has been put to that Committee that there were instructions issued to posties to withhold mail deliveries. And it is simply not good enough that we don’t have a level of transparency. We’ve at least got the ability to undertake this questioning as you say, but it is –
BYNER: Why are they withholding mail deliveries? Under whose authority? Do we know that’s so?
ROWLAND: Well, hopefully we can get to the bottom of this because the postal worker who did appear before the Committee made it very clear that those instructions had been issued and we’re going to continue to probe this because the whole premise – and this is my second point – the whole premise of the Government changing these regulations is that letter volumes have been in decline and that posties are not busy. Well, posties are busy. They’ve not only been delivering letters, Leon, they have been delivering parcels. So, I think it points to the lack of transparency that’s been going on here, but also the credibility of the Minister in this is really questionable. The notion that letter volumes has collapsed has certainly been discredited.
BYNER: Withholding the mail has surely got to be an offence? Doesn’t it?
ROWLAND: Well, you would think so and when I heard of this Leon, I don’t know whether your listeners are also Seinfeld fans but there’s that episode where Newman withholds the mail and he sits on bags and bags of it.
People should get what they pay for! Australians have a right to expect that when they pay for something to be delivered for it to actually get delivered.
BYNER: What’s the end game? I’m hearing constantly that Australia Post don’t really want to deliver letters. Are you getting that feedback?
ROWLAND: There’s no secret Leon that the money is in the parcels section, and –
BYNER: Yeah, but there’s an important point here. We pay our taxes for services that were never designed to make a profit. So, they haven’t reduced our taxes have they?
ROWLAND: That is absolutely correct. The reality is that everyone knows that letter volumes have been on the decline for decades – it’s no secret. But, the other point is that you still have services that Australia Post provides that people still need and rely on. Priority services; businesses often require these for larger parcels and packets. We’ve now have habits as a result of COVID where we are ordering more and more online –
BYNER: You know what you should do? If you want to be a really mischievous girl, I’ll tell you what to do: put up a Bill in the Parliament that Australia Post must abide by consumer law. That is, you cannot charge for a service that you haven’t delivered. Watch them absolutely shrink because that’s what is going on here.
ROWLAND: Well, that would be quite welcome also in terms of people buying broadband packages that cannot be delivered as well.
BYNER: Well, you see the ACCC have had a lot to say about business charging for something which was not delivered. I’m going to – does Rod Sims have any carriage over Australia Post and rules or is it because it’s a statutory authority it’s treated differently?
ROWLAND: They do have their own Act of Parliament but the ACCC has a very broad remit. I was fortunate to be discussing a few issues with Rod Sims not too long ago, and you’ve really prompted me to ask him these questions as well.
BYNER: Good on you! Well, I think you should. All I would do is – and this is not an unreasonable proposition – Australia Post and Ms Holgate: if you’re going to charge for a service, under consumer law, you’ve either got to deliver the service or not charge for it. Make up your damn mind! What’ve gone and done is that they’re paying the money but there is no guarantee. And telling people ‘well you can pay us this amount but there is no guarantee’, then don’t damn well charge it. You either can or you can’t, and then if it’s the business of withholding the mail, I’d be asking Mr Sims about that too. There’s a couple of jobs for you. I’ll put money on now – this will cause a hornet’s nest
ROWLAND: I’ll certainly keep that in mind and it is very sage advice there, Leon. You make a very important point that this is about trust, it really is. We should have had honesty from the start about these services changes and there should be honesty towards Australian consumers.
BYNER: Alright, Michelle, you keep us in the loop won’t you? I happen to believe that Australia Post is a great institution. I really do and I’ve always thought that. But, I think some of the distortions going on through some ideological bent that all of a sudden that these services that were set up originally. Now, look, it’s wonderful that Australia Post can make money out of packages. But don’t you dare inconvenience taxpayers who have already prepaid for a service that you don’t want to deliver because it doesn’t make enough money. Go and jump!