Friday, 12 June 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is for the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Why is the government making older Australians wait twice as long for their bills, for cards from their grandchildren and for letters from their doctors at a time when COVID makes the post an even more essential service and lifeline for older Australians?
Opposition senators interjecting—
The opposition might like to jeer a little bit, but they could have asked the question about Australia Post to the minister representing the minister for communications. It might have been a good idea. But I am happy to provide—
The Morrison government is helping Australia Post provide Australians with important services during—
An opposition senator interjecting—
To one of the consistent interjectors in the place: older Australians are Australians last time I looked. When we're assisting Australians, we're also assisting senior Australians by helping Australia Post to provide Australians with the important services they need during COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a number of existing trends, with letter volumes declining and parcel volumes jumping. Parcel volumes were up by 64 per cent in April year on year, and letter volumes were down by 36 per cent year on year; 200,000 new households are shopping online. In response to Australia Post's request, the government has temporarily adjusted the elements of the Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Regulations 2019—
My point of order is relevance. There was not a preamble. The question was: why is the government making older Australians wait twice as long when, during a pandemic, the post becomes a more essential service?
I was hearing Senator Colbeck address Australia Post directly in that part of the answer. I will listen carefully, but I believe that's relevant to the question, if he was addressing the matter of Australia Post. But I'll listen exceptionally carefully.
These changes are temporary and are effective until 30 June 2021 and will be reviewed before the end of the year. This flexibility to retrain and deploy its workforce to support parcel delivery means that around 600 new roles have been created to assist Australia Post to meet the increased demand for parcel delivery. (Time expired)
Senator Fierravanti-Wells has raised concerns that the government did not consult with Australia Post employees or people who use the service. What efforts did this minister make to consult with older Australians about the government's proposed changes to service requirements?
This government has worked assiduously over recent months to assist all Australians to deal with the global health pandemic that is COVID-19. A range of measures have been introduced, including working with Australia Post to ensure that Australia Post can manage the increased demand that is required as a result of changes in Australians' habits through being—
Yes, on direct relevance. We actually asked this minister about his engagement. What consultation, as the minister responsible for senior Australians, did he engage in about the proposed changes to service arrangements?
Senator Wong raises a legitimate point about direct relevance in this case. However, I will be slightly broader in my interpretation of it, because that was the second part of the question. The first part did refer to consultation more generally. It is my view that a minister could be directly relevant while talking about consultation about this change, not just that part of the question. But the definition of direct relevance is tighter than the old definition of broad relevance. I'll call Senator Colbeck to continue with that in mind.
Thank you, Mr President, and can I just reject the core basis of the allegation that the opposition's making—that we're trying to make people wait longer for the services they're receiving. We've done no such thing at any point. In fact this government, all through the period of the COVID-19 outbreak, has done everything it can to accommodate changes that have occurred, to accommodate the changes that have had to be made because of the incidence of COVID-19. (Time expired)
It is estimated that the government's plans will put one in four Australia Post jobs in limbo, many in the regions. Why is the government threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Australians during Australia's first recession in 29 years?
I again reject the assertions made in the question from Senator Kitching with respect to the government's actions. The government has been working to facilitate changes that have occurred in the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's put some temporary measures in place with respect to Australia Post to assist it to meet increased demand for parcels—measures that will be reviewed at an appropriate time.
The Labor Party can scaremonger all they like. We have done no such thing as try and make people wait longer for their parcels. We've tried to accommodate the system to cater for the fact that there's increased demand because of people being isolated during COVID-19. I reject any assertions from the opposition that they might make that we've been doing anything other than trying to assist Australians manage their way through the COVID-19 outbreak.