Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Regulations and Determinations
Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2020; Disallowance
So there we have it. One Nation are prepared to sink this motion because they have taken the view that they've got the good oil from the management of Australia Post. They've taken the view that we're going to have an anti-union, anti-worker position from One Nation in the defence of Australia's public institutions. We've had it all spelt out to us tonight—clearly, unequivocally, spelt out to us—by Pauline Hanson. She's accepted the word of the management of Australia Post that there's no threat to jobs. She hasn't referred to any of the documentation that's actually put before this parliament. She's not looked at the actual words used by the management of Australia Post. She's relied upon the good intentions of the management of Australia Post and this government, and she's essentially reinforced her traditional view that we're not to listen to the unions and we're not to listen to the labour movement on such an important matter. No wonder there's so little trust in One Nation across this country. No wonder there's so little understanding of why it is that One Nation fails to come to grips with the really basic questions that are confronting this nation.
This is a profoundly important motion, which we understand One Nation is going to vote down. It is a motion that, for reasons of both substance and process, should be supported. No doubt, as a result of the Senate inquiry that will be held, there will be an opportunity for us to vote on this again, when One Nation might have a few facts in their heads as distinct from glib assurances. There may be an opportunity to reconsider the damage that they do through their profoundly naive attitudes.
Let's just go back to the first issue, about public institutions and public trust. This is a government that is all about cutting jobs and downgrading essential services, and in communities that need them most. And this is not the first time that we've heard the government use this pandemic to run out their ideological agendas when it suits them. We've seen the position they've run in the universities, we've seen the position they've run in regard to superannuation and we seen their position in terms of industrial relations. They can set up all the committees they like and they can offer all the assurances they like, but at heart they remain a conservative government that wants to use this pandemic as an excuse to pursue these matters.
We then have the question of the process, where the government delivers, under the cover of this pandemic, a proposition that says, 'Well, now we've got the chance to implement this agenda'. It reflects the real danger of having unchecked power in regulations of this type. I remind Senator Hanson and the One Nation senators to actually look at what this parliament said. The Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee—not run by the unions and not run by the Labor Party but comprising an equal number of government and opposition senators—has expressed deep concern at the fact that this set of regulations has been introduced using the cover of the pandemic to evade scrutiny in regard to the regulatory changes. As a consequence, a letter has been sent to the minister, asking him to explain why there has not been proper consultation on these matters. That's exactly the position that was presented on 11 June. We're awaiting a reply to those matters, but it has become increasingly clear that the government already know the answer to that because they've set in train the practice to implement these changes without consultation.
Furthermore, they're acting on the assumption that these are not temporary changes but permanent changes. That's why we have the situation here, where the proposal for the Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Regulations Bill 2019 will allow the closure of post offices and postal outlets. That's the point I want to emphasise: that has an impact, particularly on rural communities—the closure of rural post offices—and particularly with regard to the fact that these are important and essential community services. This is under the cover of the pandemic. These changes will be made in such a way because on 18 March the Prime Minister provided an exemption to the need to have a regulatory impact statement. You could say, 'Well, that's just a routine matter,' but it goes to the heart of the question about how these processes have been put together.
Subsequent amendments to the postal regulations will effectively allow the shutdown of rural outlets, on the face of it, until 30 June next year. And, once that happens, try reopening a country post office or a rural outlet! What we'll see, of course, is that this is clearly a statement from the government that they want to reduce the number of outlets that are available. Currently, the 4,000 outlets have to be placed in defined areas; at least 50 per cent of these outlets have to be provided in country areas—in fact, 2,500 have to be in rural areas. In metropolitan areas, outlets must be located so that at least 90 per cent of residents are within 2½ kilometres of an outlet. But outside metropolitan areas they're located so that at least 85 per cent of residents are within 7½ kilometres of an outlet. This provision changes that. What it says is that under the terms of these regulations, because of staffing changes, the government can now close those outlets.
And what does the explanatory memorandum say? This is a point I've made on a previous occasion: the new regulations give the post offices very, very broad discretion as to why or how they can close outlets. For a start, they don't have to provide an explanation as to why they're closing those outlets. The explanatory statement for the new regulations states that it applies to all types of retail outlets, and that 'the workforce of retail outlets is to be interpreted broadly'. Why are those words presented in that manner?
It provides the opportunity to actually close those statements without explanation and with the broadest possible interpretation. There of course are changes to reduce letter delivery standards, with priority mail being suspended, a maximum delivery time for letters within one state to reduce the operations so that it can now take up to five days—talk about snail mail. We have delivery frequencies in metropolitan areas decreasing from daily delivery to alternate business day delivery. We have the situation where the government says to the union, 'We will then implement these changes in this manner.' So it is presented as a fait accompli. This is despite the fact that the union believes that the consequence of these changes will be that some 2,500 jobs will actually be lost.
Further consequences and the knock-on effects in the postal supply chain, in other mail rooms and the like, shouldn't be underestimated. It is about much more than just the 2,500 jobs. This is in the midst of the first recession we have had in 30 years. I would have thought under any normal circumstances you would have to question whether or not this is reckless and irresponsible, where the government which purports to represent rural interests is providing an opportunity, which One Nation is now endorsing, to actually undermine an essential service in rural and regional Australia.
The government have been willing to ensure that other essential services are able to operate throughout the pandemic. They don't say that schools can operate; in fact, they insist that schools do operate. They don't say that trains can't operate; in fact, they insist that people do use public transport. Even this parliament, after a bit of rebridging work, came to the view that we have to have a parliamentary system in the country. So why is it that post offices are to be treated in a different manner?
I have to suggest that Australia Post has been given a nod and a wink from this government that they are, in fact, preparing them, fattening them up for a different business operation, for the dreaded privatisation, which of course is the model in so many places around the world. The annual report makes it very clear that Australia Post is actually doing very well, with revenue of $6.9 billion and before-tax profit of $41 million, strong domestic parcel growth with revenue up 9.2 per cent and business efficiency savings already of $250 million. Profits are increasing, so why does the government want to cut services? Why is it, if the government says that these are only temporary changes, that it wants to cut jobs? It is not as if they have got an intractable union. In fact, this union has a long record of working constructively to make very significant changes to the way in which postal services are delivered. The union and management have set up a number of joint working groups on a number of trial sites across the country, so it is not as if the union is not prepared to engage. But these groups of course were cancelled, actually cancelled, because of the pandemic.
I don't think we can really take the dedication of Australia Post and its posties for granted, and this pandemic is a demonstration of why we should not. They are, indeed, front-line workers and, like healthcare workers and cleaners and supermarket staff, posties have kept on delivering in a timely manner. They have provided an essential service to the Australian people. But when Australia Post CEO, Ms Christine Holgate, is asked, 'Will you, in fact, guarantee there will be no job losses?' She uses the Yes Minister weasel words 'we guarantee there won't be forced redundancies'. In fact she says, 'We offered voluntary redundancies; we did it to support the union.' So there you have it. It's the ultimate in management doublespeak. They're prepared to put people out of work to help the union. What extraordinary generosity!
We all know that the changes to communication brought about by the internet have made parcel delivery a crucial part of Australia Post's business, but we should ask ourselves: how do we organise ourselves in such a way that we are able to improve services, not reduce them? The government has tried to claim that posties only deliver letters and so the changes are needed to ensure the delivery of parcels. Any of us who have spent any time at home recently know that's just not right. According to the CEPU, about 50 per cent of the typical postie's round is parcels and packages and about a third of the load is reserved for letters; the remainder is unaddressed mail and premium express products. The government should stop pretending. What we can see with our own eyes is very different from the management doublespeak that they use about not forcing redundancies and only offering voluntary redundancies.
This government should be seriously committed to building communications infrastructure for the 21st century. We should have a government that has its eye on the future and a view to ensuring an assured revenue stream. Australia Post is one such revenue stream. A trusted public institution like Australia Post is something we should protect and preserve. It's not just a parcel courier service to be eyed off by some potential corporate raider; it's an essential public service that we, as a country, should advance to ensure that we are able to service this community in a manner fitting an advanced industrial country in the 21st century.