House debates

Wednesday, 2 September 2020



12:02 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Grayndler's private Members' business notice relating to the disallowance of the Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2020, and presented to the House on 10 June 2020, being called on immediately.

The reason that I moved this motion is that the member for Grayndler put a motion on the Notice Paper calling for the disallowance of Australia Post regulations made by me as minister which temporarily varied what Australia Post is required to do in delivering letters to enable it to better respond to COVID-19 and to keep delivering parcels and letters. This was part of a baseless scare campaign in the lead-up to the Eden-Monaro by-election.

A similar disallowance motion has been moved and defeated in the other place, and it is now urgent that the member for Grayndler's disallowance motion in this House be debated. It is urgent for several reasons—first because, if not debated, after a period of 15 sitting days the motion takes effect, so it is urgent that it be voted on. Second, it is also urgent because it's important that Australians understand just how misleading the claims made by Labor on this issue have been. The claims made by Labor are untrue in multiple respects. It's been claimed by the Labor Party that Australia Post will cut jobs and remove one in four posties. This is not true. Australia Post has said there will be no forced redundancies or plans to cut posties' take-home pay due to the new temporary arrangements. Many posties will continue delivering letters on bikes, and others will be retrained to deliver parcels in vans, putting them where the work is, securing their jobs with Australia Post and better meeting the increasing needs of Australians for parcel deliveries.

It's been claimed, falsely, by Labor and by the unions that Australia Post want to cut delivery services in half. Again, this is not true. Australia Post is permitted to adjust its delivery frequency, in metropolitan areas only, from every business day to every second business day. Delivery frequency in rural, regional and remote areas will not change.

It's been claimed that waiting times for letters will more than double, from three to seven days. This not true. Mail speed standards for regular interstate letters—that's to say, mail travelling around the country—have not changed. Whether measured in business days or in actual days, the speed of delivery for intrastate mail has changed by only one or two days for regular intrastate letters, not by four days as suggested. It has been claimed by Labor and the unions that regional Australians and small businesses will be disadvantaged compared to metropolitan areas. This is not true. While the delivery frequency of regular mail has been adjusted in metropolitan areas, the delivery frequency for regular mail for rural, regional and remote areas was protected and remains unchanged.

Licensed post offices, which, together with community postal agencies, represent around 2,300 small businesses in regional and rural communities, have come out in support of the temporary regulatory changes. It's quite instructive to read what it is that the licensed post offices association, LPOGroup, has had to say. It said:

LPOG does not support the current media campaign by the CEPU that can be broadly described as an attempt to protect an inefficient letter delivery service from the winds of change that have been blowing for many years.

…   …   …

The massive ongoing decline in both business and social mail is understood all around the world and it is also that Australia Post as a postal service must also change to meet the changed customer preferences.

Those are the words of the licensed post office group, and it does know, I would suggest to you, a little bit about the postal service and how it operates. This measure will deliver benefits to community postal agencies representing around 2,300 small businesses in regional and remote communities, and that's why they've come out in active support of the changes that our government has introduced through the making of this regulatory relief.

It's also been falsely claimed by Labor and by the unions that vulnerable Australians will be most impacted by the changes. Indeed, who can forget the memorable claim from the Leader of the Opposition that this was about isolated and vulnerable Australians? It was about one isolated and vulnerable Australian, the Leader of the Opposition himself. The claim that vulnerable Australians will be most impacted by the changes is simply not true. These temporary regulatory changes give Australia Post flexibility to provide additional services that better support vulnerable Australians, such as delivering medicines and grocery boxes to those in need, those who may not be able to leave their homes because of isolation.

It has been claimed falsely that these changes are permanent. Again, this is not true. It is one of a wide range of claims made by Labor and the unions in relation to this temporary regulatory change which are not true. Let's be clear: on the face of the regulations as drafted, these regulations are written such that the changes will automatically end on 30 June 2021. That is how they are drafted. That is how they operate. I make the further point that the government has made it clear that we will assess the effect of these temporary changes before the end of the year and decide if they are to stay in place for the full period expected. Any extension of the temporary relief measures will be informed by appropriate consultations. Our position on this, therefore, is clear.

We had the go-to claim from the opposition when trying to rev up a scare campaign, the same kind of scare campaign we've seen them use, for example, in the 2016 election when they made the ludicrous claim that this government had plans to privatise Medicare. Remember that ludicrous, false claim?

Of course, we saw another ludicrous, false claim from Labor in the context of the 2020 Eden-Monaro by-election. We had the claim that the government wanted to privatise Australia Post. This is the one they go to that's in the bottom drawer when they've run out of all other scares that they can mount. We had this claim from Labor that the government apparently wanted to privatise Australia Post. Let us be absolutely clear on that and let me repeat the government's position: the Morrison government is fully committed to Australia Post remaining in government ownership. There will be no change to Australia Post ownership; it will remain government owned.

This was but one of the rich array of falsehoods and misleading claims made by the opposition and by others in the context of this debate. That's why it is important that standing orders be suspended to allow this matter to be brought on for debate now. For all of these reasons, this matter is urgent and standing orders must be suspended.

12:11 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The timing of this government couldn't be worse. Less than an hour after Australia officially went into the first recession in 30 years, they're in here bringing on a debate about cutting jobs at Australia Post. Be in no doubt: that's what it is about. This is just as two things have occurred: (1) Australia is in recession for the first time in three decades and (2) Australia Post has just posted record revenue. The fact is that this morning we also had the report that Australia Post has asked workers to volunteer to help clear a massive backlog of parcels caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But—wait for this—the Australia Post workers have to use their own cars at the same time. So they're asking them to volunteer to work, using their own cars, to deliver parcels at the very same time as they're introducing changes in regulations that will mean fewer staff. That will mean a delay in services for people right around Australia—a delay in deliveries.

We've heard them talk about it, 'Oh, people don't use letters anymore.' Really? Is that right? Why is it that every kid out there knows, if they're lucky enough to have a grandma or a grandfather, about getting that card in the mail with $5 in it. My boy is 19 and he still gets a couple of cards, and he appreciates them at age 19! I think he'll keep that going as long as he can! The fact is that Australia Post still provides an absolutely essential service. So on the one hand we have workers being asked to volunteer and to use their own cars to deliver parcels, and on the other hand what do we have? Senior executives. How are they going? Senior executives have $7 million in bonus payments—that's how well they're going. We have to cut back on workers on the front line; they have to volunteer and they have to use their own cars. But at the top end there are $7 million in bonus payments. And those bonus payments are despite a message from Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, to her staff in March, suggesting that not only would the executives forgo the bonuses but they would take a 20 per cent pay cut. But, of course, none of that has happened. The government is attempting here to halve postal deliveries and therefore threaten literally thousands of postie jobs.

Posties have one of those jobs, like the chemist, like banks used to when they had branches, where they are known throughout their community. The postie is someone who knows that you're away. They might pick up the newspapers if they're at the front of your house and haven't been put inside; they help out. They're people who are friends, not just workers. They're part of our local communities. And they're particularly important in regional Australia. At this time, when unemployment is going up, this is a part of government support that's going down. Those opposite have got something wrong. When you are in recession, what you should be doing is increasing government support. It's Keynesianism page 1; it's the stuff that's in bold. It is common sense and it is also particularly important in regional communities.

In moving this suspension, the minister spoke about Eden-Monaro. Let's talk about Eden-Monaro! I'm quite happy to talk about Eden-Monaro, where Kristy McBain, the new member for Eden-Monaro, proudly campaigned with the CEPU and with Australia Post workers, in support of their jobs. One of the reasons why Kristy McBain sits here today as the member from Eden-Monaro is that she stands up for her local community and stands up for local jobs—but of all days to speak about jobs!

As the minister said, these regulations were presented to the House on 10 June, but they sat there. They were made on 14 June. The government wouldn't bring on the debate. Remember the suspensions that we moved to bring on the debate? They never actually want to debate their own position. We just saw them, earlier on, shut down a debate on Australia's economic position—what the plan for the economy is. Even today they're not prepared to debate the economy. And, during the Eden-Monaro by-election, they certainly didn't want to talk about jobs; they didn't want to talk about jobs in regional Australia. That's because this government, which has presided over the first recession in 30 years, which produced mugs with 'Back in Black' on them—they'll produce ones for this year's budget, when it comes down in a month or so, that say 'Back in Bleak'; that's what they should say under this government—during the election campaign, had the Prime Minister saying that we 'were in surplus in the future, next year'. The government had 'brought the budget back to surplus next year'—an exercise in linguistic contortion that deserves a mug. That deserves a mug.

The problem for the government is that they're treating Australians like mugs. The government are saying: 'We are going to increase the time that it takes for a letter to get from A to B. We'll extend it by days. We'll cut service delivery to a couple of times a week. But that won't cost jobs and that won't mean less service.' It is quite extraordinary that this government is prepared to argue in a way that is completely against all logic. They say that they want to stand up for quiet Australians. What they really want is for Australians to be quiet about the impact of changes they are making not just to this but combined with the JobKeeper updated legislation that provided for cuts in wages for some of the poorest paid workers. People like retail workers had their wages slashed by $300. The government wouldn't even support putting in a safety net at the same level as JobKeeper. It is quite extraordinary.

Under these provisions, we know that people in regional Australia, who already wait longer for letters than those in my electorate—or in the electorate of the member for Bradfield, who was so familiar with different regional areas that he ran for Bradfield and for Cook in preselection against the current Prime Minister; he was flexible about where things were located!—as a result of this will get less service. And that is just one further way that the government is letting down regional Australia.

And where are the Nats on this? We'll wait and see if they come in and how they'll vote on this, because the National Party of course have abandoned regional Australia.

So, at a time when families are struggling to pay their bills and we need to create jobs, not cut jobs, this is the wrong move by this government. That's why we should oppose the suspension of standing orders, because if it doesn't get up then the regulations won't come in. So we'll be voting against the suspension, and then we'll be moving the proposition, if we are not successful in opposing the suspension. (Time expired)

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to.

12:21 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the course of the pandemic, we've often heard the expression, 'We're all in this together.' So our message to the minister is: 'When you say it, mean it,' because a lot of Australia Post workers—and these are average Australians who are driven very much not by the pay packet, and certainly not by the pay packets earned by the executives in Australia Post—do their work from a sense of service, and, importantly, they do it at times and in a way that most average Australians would recognise is pretty hard going.

Every single person on this side of the House is familiar with Australia Post workers and knows what their day looks like, and I will give you a sense of what it's like. Every single one of us on this side of the House is prepared to stand with average Australians who work at Australia Post, and we know what they do—like the van drivers who start their day at the end of our day clearing the mail; like the mail centre workers whose working day is always the night; like the line-haul drivers who cross state lines at midnight, delivering mail; like the posties who are up before dawn getting ready to do their day delivery; like the people you see in the post offices who greet you and help every single person in the community and know your name; even down to the video coders who make sure that your bad handwriting is not going to stop the mail being delivered. It's all those average Australians who we stand up for and are proud to stand up for in this place. They, through the course of this, had to live with the kind of job anxiety and insecurity and this whole crisis that had been cultivated by Australia Post managers, backed in by the government, who, we're told, will bring in a whole series of temporary changes that will last until June next year—not very temporary for them! They're the ones who saw their overtime cut, the ones who saw the amount of hours that they work cut, the ones who knew that their jobs were likely to be cut. At a time when they knew how much post was going through, the postal execs a few months earlier were saying, 'Post volumes are dropping.' Even this minister was saying that the numbers were dropping. What we discovered, through the parliament that this government didn't want to sit and the parliament from which this government didn't want the answers to come out, was that mail volumes were actually going up in the middle of the pandemic—going up!

So we've had a crisis generated by Post managers a few months earlier, and then, a few months later, we've had the managing director of Australia Post saying: 'At Australia Post, it's Christmas every day'—bragging about how much is going through Australia Post. These are the same executives who, after creating that level of crisis and that level of anxiety, then managed to reward themselves on a job well done by giving themselves big bonuses! The same people doing this are being supported by this government. Only this government can stand by. Only a Liberal MP could stand by and endorse the notion that you get a million-dollar bonus, or millions of dollars of bonuses, for scaring your workforce and lying to the public. Only the Liberals could back that in and only the Nationals could let them get away with it. Only the Nationals could—the people who are supposed to stand up for people in the bush, either for the Australia Post workers that are in regional communities or for the communities that those workers are helping. The Nats don't say a single thing about it. It is wrong on so many levels.

As the Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out, after all that revenue is up. They're doing okay. They can see what's happening on parcels. They've had all this stuff happen. They award themselves a bonus in that way. Then after all that they say to Australia Post workers, 'Now, could you help us clear the mail with your own cars?' This is the genius of Australia Post management that they do that—'If you could just help us out in that way?'—after making them so nervous about what's happening.

The other thing is the minister is wrongly accusing our side of lies. When Australia Post workers were briefed in their workplace—

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Chifley will resume seat. The minister.

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The member's five minutes has come to an end.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is 10 minutes. I call the member for Chifley.

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia Post workers get told by their own managers to get ready for job losses. Their own managers are telling them that they will have to brace for job losses, and the government is out trying to suggest otherwise. Australia Post is out trying to suggest otherwise. Those postal workers know the way their work is configured and they are absolutely concerned by it. They are concerned by it. So why is it that Post and the government work so hard hand in hand denying the truth, saying that everything else is rosy? Of course, they are getting the licensed post offices in to back them up, because they're worried about their own futures as well. They know how their bread is buttered. They are hardly the most convincing audience to use to back you up. It is those postal workers that we feel most strongly for. It is those postal workers, as I said, that have a sense of service and a sense of duty and do stuff that most others Australians recognise is a hard job. They've been hard done by. They've been put in these positions where they are prepared to work with management. Postal workers know exactly what the minister has been saying. They get where technology is going. They understand the way that postal volumes have changed. They know they have to change with it, and they have over many years. They have worked with management. But this management crew that this government brought in—it was telling—would not let their workforce know before the public knew—

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Point of order, Minister?

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

The speaker is only entitled to speak for five minutes and has been going for some 7½ minutes. I ask that you consult with the Clerk.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Chifley has the call. Point of order?

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order. I don't know who they are—they're not members of parliament—but people are coming in and wanting to negotiate on the floor directly with the clerks. If people are not members of parliament or clerks or attendants, they go to an adviser's seat and they wait there. They don't come in and try to take over the building. I don't know who that bloke is, but it cannot go on. He is not elected, and that sort of behaviour and pressure being put on the clerks should not be tolerated.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Chifley has the call.

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

By the way, those advisers, if they want to send a message, should try to use post these days! It'll get there in the end!

Here's the thing: most postal workers know that their workplace is changing, and they're prepared to work with Australia Post on it. The unions are also prepared to work on it. What was telling was: Post management, backed in by the government, didn't take their workforce into their confidence, didn't let them know. What happened was that most postal workers had to find out about their futures through the media. They did not find out from Post management bringing them into their confidence and working with them; it was all dropped in the media. Then Post management and the government wanted to use the message 'Trust us.' There was no climate of trust that was built up. There was no attempt to work with the workforce. There was no attempt to bring into confidence people whose livelihoods would be affected. You would think, at a time when the economy is under such pressure, when we should save every single job, that the government would work to protect ordinary workers under their umbrella, and they refused to. We stand with every Australia Post worker and the communities that depend on them to make sure that that service is upheld and that at this time, right now, in a recession, all jobs are protected.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by the Minister for Communications be agreed to.

12:38 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, a point of order. It goes to the operation of the chamber and an issue that affects all members. It goes to the use of the advisers' boxes on both sides. I won't mention names, but, on recent occasions, there's been an increasing tendency for some staff, when they come in, to not go to the advisers' box but to come right to the floor of the chamber to try to grab the attention of either the minister at the table or, in this case, the Clerk, and try to conduct direct negotiations. It would be helpful to the operation of the chamber, and also to preserve the fact that the focus of the chamber is on—

Mr Snowdon interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lingiari is not helping. The Manager of Opposition Business is articulating a point of view by way of a point of order, and I'd like to hear him without the cackle in the background.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I'd like to make a comment about it as well.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't do that by way of interjection. As someone who's been in this House since 1987, you should be aware of that.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

Put simply—and I suspect I speak for all members—it would be helpful if a strong statement were made from the chair about the use of the advisers' boxes so the parliament can operate in its normal way.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Manager of Opposition Business. As he'd appreciate, I only entered the chamber in the minutes after this was raised. I did see him raising it on a television in my office and came in anticipating the division in any event.

I just want to be very clear about this. There have been issues over the years in both advisers' boxes, on the opposition and government sides. But I agree there has been an increasing tendency—I've dealt with a couple of issues myself. Just for clarity: the way this has worked over the years is, of course, that the government are responsible for their side and the opposition are responsible for their side, on the basis that the rules are very clear. They're advisers' boxes. There are attendants to take messages. That's why they're there. Ministers and shadow ministers and members can, of course, approach the advisers, but that's the way it works. Advisers—let me be very clear—cannot gesture, call, seek the assistance of a clerk or stand next to the advisers' box waiting for either an attendant or for a member of parliament to come to them. I want to be very clear about it.

At the moment, of course, we have a maximum of three advisers in the box for the physical-distancing requirements, so, if there are three in the box and another adviser comes in, they're not to take a seat. They can certainly give a document to an attendant or a message to another adviser or can, obviously, swap into a seat that's there. I think it will help if this statement is very clear. Enough of you know that some of us have been advisers before. I managed to do it without incident for 10 years—so I don't think I'm being too hard—as did a number of others. Obviously, if there is a repeat on any side, now that I've made this statement, of advisers not complying with what are very clear rules—and I have to say it's a privilege to sit, essentially, next to the floor of the House—those advisers will not be allowed in the advisers' box for an unspecified period of time.

Ms Swanson interjecting

What did the member for Paterson say?

Ms Swanson interjecting

Yes, okay. Well, that's probably why you weren't taking the point of order.