Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Regulations and Determinations

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

7:09 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I indicate I'm reserving the position of Centre Alliance, because we have a Senate inquiry afoot now that will examine this issue in greater detail, but I do want to put some thoughts on the table. Firstly, the operation of the national post service has been and still is one of the core functions of the Commonwealth government. Under the provisions of section 51(v) of the Constitution, the Commonwealth parliament is empowered to make laws with regard to postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services. The Postmaster-General's Department was one of the original Commonwealth departments created on 1 January 1901, by federal executive minute No. 1 of 1 January 1901.

The Post and Telegraph Act 1901 was one of the earliest pieces of legislation passed by the Commonwealth parliament, formalising the federal takeover of the post and telegraph services of the states. That act and the Postmaster-General's Department were the responsibility of a minister with cabinet rank—the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General's Department functioned for 75 years until it was disaggregated by the Whitlam government in mid-1975 to form two entities: the Australian Telecommunications Commission trading as Telecom Australia, and later as Telstra, and the Australian Postal Commission trading as Australia Post. Forty-five years of corporatisation and privatisation followed. Telstra was privatised by the Howard government, and in 2011 the Gillard government sold off the Commonwealth government's remaining shares in the company.

Since 1989 Australia Post has operated as a fully corporatised government business enterprise under the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989—the APC Act. The APC Act imposes a community service obligation that must be adhered to in Australia Post's letter services:

Australia Post shall make the letter service available at a single uniform rate of postage for the carriage within Australia, by ordinary post, of letters that are standard postal articles.

Australia Post is also required to ensure:

(a) that, in view of the social importance of the letter service, the service is reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business; and

(b) that the performance standards (including delivery times) for the letter service reasonably meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the Australian community.

It is interesting to go back to the explanatory memorandum associated with the original bill in 1988, where it talks about the community service obligation:

The right to carry letters within Australia and between Australia and overseas is reserved to Australia Post in recognition of the CSOs imposed on Australia Post. Australia Post is empowered to take action in the Federal Court for relief where a person engages in, or proposes to engage in, the provision of reserved services.

What that means is Australia Post had exclusive rights in Australia to carry letters. Indeed, that's what Australia Post built their reputation on. No-one else could deliver letters; it was against the law. That red bike would go down the street, or that red—I don't know what you call them—pre-moped motorbike would go down the street; that's what people remember about Australia Post. It's interesting that they built their reputation and their iconic status on that letter service. Now we see that they want to in some sense reduce that community service obligation. I did talk to the CEO. In reducing that, they are not willing to open that up to the market. They want to maintain that reserved service and not deliver in accordance with what was originally intended but not let anyone else step into their shoes.

Australia Post has unquestionably had its ups and downs, and it has responded to the challenges and opportunities of our evolving digital economy. In October last year Australia Post completed a major rebranding project with Melbourne based brand strategy firm Maud. This project saw the development of a new brand identity, websites and self-service platforms, parcel and letter packaging, street posting boxes, staff uniforms and a fleet of custom-designed electric vehicles for the company's booming parcel delivery service.

Under CEO Christine Holgate, the declared purpose of Australia Post's rebranding is 'to communicate the organisation's unique and important role in the community' and, in the words of the promotional material, 'to put the Australia back into Australia Post'. Yet today we are standing here looking to wind down those services. My concern in relation to this is that we know there has been a loss of demand but the people who likely still have that demand are elderly people who don't know about or don't like to use email, Dropbox and other things we might take for granted. So just saying the demand has reduced ignores the fact that there are still people who rely on the post turning up every day. I look at this in the same way as you look at a bus service with some unprofitable routes. You say: 'Let's cut those bus routes. We can't afford those. We want to focus on the areas where we make the most money.' That's not how you look after a community. I'm going to be very interested in seeing exactly what information is drawn out in the Senate inquiry such that we make a good decision in relation to this regulation.


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