MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
WEDNESDAY, 10 JUNE 2020
SUBJECTS: Australia Post job losses; NewsCorp and regional media closures; ABC funding cuts and job losses.
ALI CREW, HOST: Postal services have taken a hit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Letter deliveries are now only happening every second day, and interstate deliveries are facing delays. Now unions are concerned one in four Australia Post jobs could face the axe as a result of changes. For more on this we’re joined by Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, good morning.
MICHELLE ROWLAND: Good morning.
CREW: Now is there any indication that these jobs are indeed on the line?
ROWLAND: Well indeed Australia Post have said that there will be job losses, and the Government needs to be up front about this. These regulations are supposedly about a measure to deal with the impact of COVID-19, and these were announced in April. But in effect, these changes effectively halve the delivery and frequency of postal services and the concern is that this is not a short term measure and indeed, it could be being used as cover for long-term detrimental changes to jobs and conditions of workers.
CREW: Well Australia Post has issued a statement saying it needs its workers more than ever to help deliver the increasing parcel volumes. What’s your response to that?
ROWLAND: Well, we support that. And in fact, the parcels boom is an opportunity to do more with one of our great Government Business Enterprises. We need to be forward-looking about a post-COVID world and have a GBE from which we should be leveraging, in everything from logistics to technology to banking services, we should capitalise on those strengths. And around the world, you see Amazon, for example, their share price having skyrocketed, and even locally here domestic retail grocery services are all investing. Now, we support the surge in parcels. We support Australia Post doing more with that. But they can do it with or without regulation.
CREW: So what are you actually proposing Australia Post should do to shore up the jobs of workers?
ROWLAND: Well Labor would like to see these regulations shelved for now. We want Australia Post to return to the table to discuss options with its workers, with the unions, with affected industries. And I must say that this consensus approach has been successful in the past and its one of the reasons why Australia Post remains a trusted and efficient organisation. And, at a time when we have job losses right across the community it’s irresponsible to be pursuing policy changes that put jobs at risk. And let’s remember too, there are many essential service workers outside of frontline health. They include in communications, in the media and in Post as well. These are people who have operated under very difficult circumstances and we should be using this parcel boom to create jobs that improve services, not cut jobs.
CREW: Let’s turn to the media sector now, where NewsCorp is set to axe dozens of jobs across its metropolitan bureaux, and of course it comes after it announced more than 100 local and regional newspapers will become digital. And of course, it comes at a time when the news cycle is busier than ever. What do you think needs to be done to keep this profession economically viable into the future?
ROWLAND: Well part of the problem here is that the media was in crisis, not only in the commercial space but also in terms of cuts to our public broadcaster, but particularly in regional areas, and this well before the advent of COVID. We’ve had a litany of mismanagement from this Government. The problem is the challenges of digital disruption didn’t arise overnight and the sector has been left seriously exposed. As you point out, regional areas have lost hundreds of titles in recent years and indeed we’ve had situations where entire regions risk becoming news deserts. The problem is that there’s too little too late, being announced by this Government. We’ve had a series of recommendations from industry, from not-for-profits, we’ve had inquiries, we’ve had an ACCC report, all giving very detailed recommendations and this Government’s piecemeal approach to this, and not having done the hard yards on regulatory reform over the last six or so years, really has left the sector exposed.
CREW: Well you touched on the cuts to the ABC which is facing up to 250 redundancies. This is what the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, had to say a little earlier:
MATHIAS CORMANN: The ABC gets more than a billion dollars in funding every year from the taxpayer and the ABC has got significantly better financial security than any of the other media organisations across Australia. I mean, there’s been structural pressures on the media sector nationally everywhere…
CREW: Do you agree with that assessment by Mathias Cormann?
ROWLAND: Well the reality is that when this Government was elected they specifically promised no cuts to the ABC, and that promise barely lasted a year. We have a situation where the ABC, having performed such an important role during this crisis and during the bushfires, are now going to see something like 200 to 250 job losses in the near future. It remains to be seen whether or not the ability of the ABC to deliver on its Charter will be compromised by that. But indeed this all points to the importance of the role of the media in an effective functioning democracy, the role of the fourth estate in holding governments to account. The ABC as the national broadcaster, the ACCC has pointed out that it is not resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting that we were discussing earlier. While the Finance Minister might like to talk about the totality of the ABC’s funding, the reality is that it’s been cut by successive budgets under that Finance Minister’s watch, in clear breach of an election promise not to do so.
CREW: Michelle Rowland, we appreciate your time with us this morning.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.
CREW: That’s the Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, and the Communications Minister has declined ABC News Radio’s request for comment this morning.