Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Regulations and Determinations

Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2020; Disallowance

6:24 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to add Senator Hanson-Young's name to this motion.

Leave granted.

I, and also on behalf of Senators Carr and Hanson-Young, move:

That the Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2020, made under the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989, be disallowed.

On 21 April, those opposite announced that Australia Post's performance standards would be temporarily amended by regulation. The regulation was then registered on Friday 15 May 2020. These changes are set to last until July 2021. The government and Australia Post's management said that this will help to manage the impacts that COVID-19 has had on Australia Post's operations. This regulation reduces the frequency of letter delivery and provides Australia Post with significant flexibility to restructure its workforce operations.

Currently, Australia Post is required to service 98 per cent of postal delivery points daily. This excludes weekends and public holidays. Under the regulation, this requirement will be removed. Australia Post will instead be required to service 97 per cent of delivery points at least two days per week. Currently, delivery time frames within a capital city allow for three business days after the day of posting. This would change to allow for five business days after day of posting, which is effectively, when you think about it, seven days if you post on a Friday afternoon. Currently, delivery time frames within a regional city allow for three business days after the day of posting. This would change to allow for five business days after day of posting. Letter delivery time frames from a capital city to a regional city within the same state currently allow for four business days after day of posting. This would be pushed out to five business days after day of posting. The current postbox clearance frequency and day of posting definition means that clearance is daily, and therefore the day of posting was the same day or the following day. The changes mean that Australia Post can now set their clearance times, which in turn determine the day of posting. In practice, this will mean no clearance on a Sunday. Australia Post had to offer a priority letters service where businesses could pay to have letters delivered faster. Now this is no longer offered. This is a service that generates $400 million a year in revenue.

Australia Post argues that COVID-19 means fundamental change is required. Annual parcel growth is now forecast to be 20 to 25 per cent over the next few years, well ahead of pre-COVID forecasts of 10 per cent. Current parcel volumes are up 65 per cent. The CEO of Australia Post has also argued that a collapse in letters is the reason why change is needed. However, this claim is disputed by unions and contradicted by people within Australia Post. In an article published this past Sunday in The New Daily, titled 'Australia Post refuses to divulge data as it pushes service cuts to parliament', Isabelle Lane notes:

The total number of addressed and unaddressed number of letters sent fell 10 per cent in February compared to the same month last year, 11 per cent in March, 28 per cent in April and 36 per cent in May.

However, the coronavirus pandemic is not the only factor that could have triggered the dramatic decline in April and May, as May 2019 was a federal election month, which means unusually large volumes of unaddressed letters were sent in the weeks preceding the national poll.

Ms Lane goes on to say:

An Australia Post media spokesperson told The New Daily the figures for annual changes in volumes of addressed and unaddressed mail sent in February, March, and April, which The New Daily first requested on Thursday, would be provided by 6pm on Sunday.

The spokesperson then provided an incomplete set of figures covering May only, and not the three months preceding it, including April, when the government's decision to approve service cuts was made.

After repeatedly refusing to give the journalists, the unions and the Labor Party the correct information regarding the decline in letter volumes, the government finally acknowledged that they deliberately deceived Australians with misleading statistics when ramming through their temporary COVID-19 postal regulations. Addressed letter volumes did not collapse in March or April 2020, as the government claimed—a claim they used to justify the need for these regulations. Volumes were in line with forecasts and possibly ahead.

On the day the government announced its decision to cut service standards, the Australia Post CEO claimed addressed letter volumes had collapsed by 50 per cent. This in turn became the justification for cutting delivery frequency in half and putting the jobs of one in four posties in limbo and many indirect jobs at risk. Furthermore, we now know that the request for change was made on 31 March this year, when letter volumes were an estimated four per cent above trend. In other words, the seven per cent decline in March 2020 was in fact beating or in line with the internally budgeted pre-COVID forecasts. The lengths to which this government will go to cut workers' pay, entitlements and conditions really know no bounds.

In response to these revelations, my colleague in the other place the member for Greenway and shadow communications minister said:

It was not addressed letter volumes that collapsed during COVID-19 but the integrity of the Morrison Government's rationale for these changes.

She went on to say:

The Morrison Government has tried to use a health pandemic to bypass consultation and ram through an agenda that cuts services and cut jobs.

She added:

This is an unacceptable breach of trust with the community and a cheap shot on the workers of Australia Post. The Parliament must call this out for what it is.

I agree with the member for Greenway. This is a shameful and deceitful act by a proven cruel government that is always looking to undermine the conditions of Australian workers. If these regulations were based on a hoax, how and why should we trust them now?

These regulations, if they are allowed to stand, will allow Australia Post to scale back services and put jobs and take-home pay at risk. Their agenda is to reduce costs by laying off unionised workers and shifting some of the workload to contractors. This is about nothing other than cutting some jobs and transitioning others onto lower wages. We know that Australia Post does not intend for these changes to be temporary. That's why all involved are tying themselves in knots trying to avoid answering the question of whether there will be any indirect job losses. The regulations are pursuing a long-term industrial agenda, with COVID being used to get a foot in the door. The extent and impact of that agenda warrants dedicated parliamentary scrutiny, scrutiny that we have sought through a referral to a Senate references committee.

These regulations will cut by half the frequency of postie delivery rounds and push back mail delivery time frames within capital cities, within regional cities, and between our cities and regional areas. According to the CEPU, around 50 per cent of a postie's daily workload is currently parcels and packets based, 30 to 35 per cent is reserved letters and the remainder is unaddressed and premium express products. The idea that the government likes to put forward, that posties are just there for letters, is nonsense, and we all know this from our own experience. If Australia Post and the government wanted to make a case for change they should have fronted up and given an honest account of their plans. Instead, they've chosen to hide behind COVID-19 and describe these changes as temporary in the full knowledge that any consequent changes to the Australia Post workforce may well become irreversible by next July.

These changes are not temporary as the government has claimed; they are intended to be permanent. I cannot understand why the government and those on the crossbench that plan to oppose this disallowance continue to pretend that they are temporary. Voting against this disallowance is a vote for permanent service cuts with many jobs being put at risk. This vote will be recorded and, when the inevitable job cuts come and these changes become baked in, permanently undermining the service that our posties provide, the government will be held responsible. Using the cover of a pandemic to pursue an agenda that was clearly on foot prior to the outbreak of COVID is reprehensible. This is about cutting some delivery and processing jobs and shifting other workers on to lower wages.

In 2019 the government commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to undertake a review of Australia Post and its financial sustainability. The report has not been published, but it is understood to recommend a range of measures that would impact community service obligations and the workforce. When this report finally comes out, it will be interesting to see if its recommendations align with what the government is currently trying to do. Furthermore, this regulation is proposed to have effect until July 2021. This is, curiously, longer than the expected COVID-19 timetable for lifting restrictions, but just long enough for restructuring to occur. We will see what they try in July 2021, and if they do try and extend these regulations further or seek to make them permanent then what we will see is the agenda that the government has had.

COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to rush through changes which are irreversible. This is a behaviour we would expect of an authoritarian regime, not a democratically elected government. The last few months have been a challenging time for everyone, perhaps more so than any other time in our living memory. It has brought out the best in all of us. There has been cooperation between businesses and unions—not seen in a generation, really—in order to protect jobs and keep businesses running. That is a better way forward, not ramming through a regulation like this without consultation and without any opportunity to examine alternative ways forward. These regulations have proven to be not only unnecessary but also built on a foundation of lies, and they should be shelved immediately. We want to set up a process to give fair examination to alternative options, and this is what the public would expect of us. That is what the public would expect of all of us. Labor supports the disallowance of these regulations.


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