Senate debates

Friday, 12 June 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australia Post

3:02 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by Senator Colbeck to the question asked by Senator Kitching.

The question was asked of the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians because of how many senior Australians depend on our postal service. In fact, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic all Australians have relied on posties to deliver essential items they needed. There's been a parcel boom as people have turned to online shopping and local providers. Our posties endure all types of weather, difficult terrain and, it goes out saying, swooping magpies. We rely on our posties, and they work hard for us. We often, though, just expect that the work they do will continue on, but now the Morrison government wants to rip that away.

Under the cover of the coronavirus crisis and during a recession, the Morrison government is ripping thousands of Australia Post jobs away. The regulations the Morrison government wants to impose will let Australia Post scale back services, slash jobs and cut wages. One in four jobs—gone. The livelihoods of thousands of Australians—gone. Income for their families during a recession—gone. There will be longer waits for mail and for parcels. These changes will hit regional Australia the hardest. People in regional Australia will be forced to wait even longer than they currently do for mail and for small parcels. In Queanbeyan alone, the Morrison government's regulation will slash the frequency of postie rounds by half. Mail delivery time frames will blow out from three business days to seven business days. Now is not the time to be slashing jobs in regional Australia.

Disgracefully, the government has tried to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for these horrendous changes. The Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians said the government was 'assisting Australians through the COVID-19 outbreak', but they're not, and they're certainly not assisting Australia's posties.

The regulation making these changes was made by the government with no consultation. They did not speak with employees or employee representatives. Imagine that: making a change that's going to cost one in four jobs and cut wages during a recession and not speaking to employees or to employee representatives. This is a cheap shot at the workers of Australia Post. You can't say that you're for all Australians and then cut one in four jobs at Australia Post.

The boom in parcel delivery should be an opportunity to grow jobs, not to cut them. If parcel numbers are booming then why is Australia Post talking about redundancies? Why won't the Prime Minister work with our posties to guarantee their jobs and their futures? Why do posties and staff at Australia Post storefronts, from the cities to the suburbs to the regions, still have to live with the uncertainty that their jobs might be ripped away from them during a recession? The Morrison government must guarantee the thousands of postie jobs in Australia and those that service our communities. I mean, for a Prime Minister who loves a slogan, the small parcel boom should be a 'job maker' opportunity. Instead Scott Morrison, in these cuts to Australia Post, is just showing that he's a job faker, not a job maker.

Finally, the government has given no guarantees that the changes won't be made permanent following the coronavirus crisis. As we well know, Mr Morrison says one thing yet does another. We just can't trust this Prime Minister anymore. He said that JobKeeper would last until September, and then he ripped it away from 120,000 early childcare workers. He said robodebt was lawful, and it turns out it wasn't. Yesterday he apologised—something the leader of the government in this chamber is yet to do. The Prime Minister said he'd stop the boats, and then he let in the Ruby Princessthe one boat that mattered—which led to the biggest spike in coronavirus cases in Australia and an outbreak in north-west Tasmania.

Now the Prime Minister says these changes to Australia Post are temporary. But how do we know we can trust him when he says that? How do the people of regional Australia know they can trust this Prime Minister when he says that these changes—the doubling of the wait time for mail and small parcels—are temporary? It is going to affect people in Queanbeyan, in Cooma, in Jindabyne and in Merimbula. You used to be able to trust this government to make sure that the post worked, that you'd get your mail. But you just can't trust them anymore. (Time expired)

3:07 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a clear example of what the Labor Party gets up to. I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her contribution, because it exposes the falsehoods that are always spun into their narrative. I would invite the deputy leader to actually listen to what the CEO of Australia Post, one Ms Holgate, has had to say:

Unfortunately there has been a range of false claims made about the temporary changes to our regulations. We are not forcing 2,000 of our valued posties into redundancies.

That is an unequivocal statement from the CEO of Australia Post. Yet a senior member of the Australian Labor Party seeks to assert the exact opposite—a complete falsehood, with no fact and no substantiation offered—whereas we on the government side are able to show the support and substantiation from the CEO of Australia Post, keeping in mind that Australia Post is a government business enterprise in which the government of the day cannot interfere. If I recall correctly, that was a change made to Australia Post by none other than the then Labor minister for communications, one Mr Kim Beazley. So, it was a Labor change that does not allow government to make those sorts of interferences.

Another statement from the CEO of Australia Post:

Union claims as many as one in four postie jobs will be impacted are false.

But who made that claim? Senator Keneally, right in here, made that false claim. Why? Because her union bosses told her to do so. Yet we now know that it is completely and utterly false. If Senator Keneally wants to practice what she preaches at us, she will be coming in here to apologise for misleading the Senate, either knowingly or unwittingly—her choice, but clearly a falsehood and a misleading of the Senate. What is more, Senator Keneally made the false assertion that there was no consultation with the union movement, yet the CEO of Australia Post says:

We continue to extensively consult with the union on issues and challenges COVID-19 has presented …

So either we believe Senator Keneally or we believe Ms Holgate, the CEO of Australia Post. There is, unfortunately, a developing consistency about Senator Keneally's contributions in this place and in the public space: you can't rely on what she says. It is spin, and it is spin that is not based on truth and is not based on evidence. It is spin designed to help the Australian Labor Party's ever-flagging political fortunes. What did Senator Keneally spin into her narrative? A number of townships around the electorate of Eden-Monaro. What are they doing? The ALP, very transparently, are peddling falsehoods. Like they did with 'Mediscare' in 2016, they have put a false narrative out into the electorate in a desperate attempt to win votes.

They cannot win votes on their own merit. If they sought to, you just had to listen to question time today. What was the first question from Senator Gallagher about? The ever-increasing debt. Two or three questions later, the question was about the government not spending enough. So we are condemned for an increased debt, then we are attacked for not spending enough. The narrative is completely and utterly inconsistent, and that is why the Australian Labor Party so consistently leaves the Australian economy in a mess. And, when it does so, it means that Australians lose their jobs.

That is why the economic management of this country is so fundamental, and that is why it's so important that people seeking to offer themselves to public life understand the importance of the economy. We on this side do. Senator Keneally and the Labor Party have today displayed and disclosed they do not understand it. I invite Senator Keneally to be honest and put into the Hansard record Ms Holgate's statements. (Time expired)

3:12 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answer to the question on postal services. It's not the first time we have seen that this pandemic has provided this government with an opportunity to use the threat of this plague to pursue a covert and insidious policy agenda. And, in this case, we see that the government has used this crisis to allow it to close many of our postal outlets, cut essential services and put more Australians out of work. We have to remember that the service that Australia Post provides is not just about delivering parcels from the latest purchases on the internet; it's about the provision of essential services, like the carriage of medicines. These changes have been made without consultation with the relevant stakeholders—staff or customers. They were introduced with exemptions provided by the Prime Minister on 18 March under the regulations, where a complete regulatory impact statement was not needed and was not provided. It was not delivered to the union. It was provided by the management as a basis for full implementation—not on the basis of temporary operation, but on the basis of permanent operation.

Subsequent amendments to these regulations will effectively allow for the closure of post office outlets throughout regional Australia. At present, Australia Post is required to maintain at least 4,000 retail outlets. At least 50 per cent of those outlets and no fewer than 2,500 outlets have to be provided in rural areas. In the metropolitan areas, they must be located so that at least 90 per cent of the population is within 2½ kilometres of such an outlet. In non-metropolitan areas, 85 per cent of residents must be within 7½ kilometres of an outlet. These regulations change that formula, because, under these circumstances, if the management so determines, they have the discretion to close post offices. What's the evidence for that? It's in the explanatory memorandum. Read the explanatory memorandum!

The explanatory memorandum says that on these staffing applications the new regulations state that, in all talks of retail outlets, workers of retail outlets are to be interpreted broadly. This was the concern that we adopted through the scrutiny of delegated legislation committee, a bipartisan committee where we saw both opposition and government senators write to the minister asking for an explanation for why these discrepancies have occurred and why it is that there should be a deterioration in service provision for the Australian people of an essential service like Australia Post. What we looked to was the explanatory memorandum for evidence of what the government's doing, and I urge senators to actually read these documents. Before you cast judgement, read the actual documents that Australia Post itself has put out on behalf of the government. These changes will reduce letter delivery standards while priority mail services are to be suspended, the maximum delivery time for mail within one state is to increase to the day of posting plus five business days and delivery frequency in metropolitan areas will be decreased from daily delivery to alternate business day delivery.

The government, of course, has provided no attempt to consult with the union about the job losses that will inevitably flow from this. We know that the sale of assets has already begun. We know that up to 2½ thousand job losses are predicted, and this does not include the job losses in mail rooms that support Australia Post. The government pretends it's about defending rural interests. Of course, it doesn't go anywhere near the consequences of the reduction of services to rural communities like those provided by Australia Post. Australia Post remains a trusted and valued public institution. We cannot afford to allow it to be fattened up for privatisation, as this government has done in so many other areas. We have to be careful of the consequences of the loss of public trust in valuable institutions like Australia Post. What we know is that the revenue of Australia Post for its parcel service delivery is actually growing dramatically. I don't want to see Amazon or any other organisation of that type take over what should be the proper function of an essential public institution like Australia Post. (Time expired)

3:17 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a very exciting day when you hear the Labor Party rediscover regional Australia, because regional Australians know that they completely forgot about them going into the last election. In fact, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Senator Keneally thinks that Queanbeyan is the heart of regional Australia. As a regional Australian, as a regional Queenslander, I need to let her know that being in Queanbeyan does not mean that you're way out in the sticks. But it is great to know that the Labor Party has rediscovered this essential part of the country! And Senator Carr has continued with that discovery. It's an exciting day for regional Australia to have the Labor Party remember that they exist!

It is always disturbing to hear the Labor Party start talking about facts because they're generally very short on them, and today's facts are a hodgepodge of made-up numbers and scare campaigns. They've absolutely not read the reality of what is going on for Australia, both regional and urban, as a result of COVID-19 and, in addition to that, the change in consumer habits, with people relying more and more on online shopping and parcel deliveries. In fact, parcel volumes were up 64 per cent in April year on year this year, and letter volumes were down 36 per cent in May year on year. I'm sure that Senator Keneally and Senator Carr can both remember the happy days of receiving a handwritten letter in your letterbox, of the joy of tearing open the mail to see what exciting news you'd received from far away, maybe even from regional Australia, but that is, of course, a thing of the past these days. It is less likely that you will receive a handwritten card or note in the mail.

Indeed, even shopping has changed. We had 200,000 new households shopping online for the first time in April this year. Whether it be clothes, books or even food, the delivery of all sorts of products to people's homes has changed the way we live completely because of the very necessary restrictions on movements due to COVID this year. So, in response to Australia Post's requests, the government had to temporarily adjust some elements of the regulations to allow Australia Post to deliver on these changed requirements in this era of COVID. It has given Australia Post flexibility to retrain and redeploy its workforce.

The Morrison government completely rejects Labor's misleading and baseless scare campaign around changes to Australia Post. These changes are not permanent. They are temporary and they are subject to review. There will be no forced redundancies or cuts to posties' take-home pay. Delivery frequency in regional, rural and remote Australia will not change. Licensed post offices are actively supportive of these relief measures. Once again, I, too, am confused by Labor's mixed messages. One moment they think the debt is too high and in the next they think it is too low. It is just another example of the confusion that Labor are in. The Labor Party and the Labor plan were unanimously rejected by Australians right across this country.

I think it's important to acknowledge the flexibility that Australia Post has been able to demonstrate during this time, particularly in their partnership with the Pharmacy Guild to deliver medicines to homes for vulnerable and isolating people. This was available nationally. This was a terrific example of how modern practices were able to change quickly to meet the changing demands of Australians who, unlike other people in this chamber, followed medical advice, stayed home, self-isolated and got Australia through this terrible pandemic by flattening the curve.

3:22 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the nonanswer which is typical of the form we normally see Minister Colbeck show in this place, and once again he showed it today. I would have to describe his response when he was asked to give his view about what was happening with Australia Post on behalf of the older Australians in the country who so predominantly rely on this particularly important essential service as shocked that he should have even been asked. He was asked if he has paid attention to his responsibilities as minister to consult with older Australians. Surely if the minister had undertaken any consultation in any form whatsoever with older Australians about their views with regards to the changes to Australia Post he would have been able to name at least a couple of conversations that he'd had and at least a couple of consultations with leading senior advocates? However, his response through his nonanswer of his shock and his failure to indicate any consultation at all reveals that Minister Colbeck has once again failed Australians who so predominantly rely on Australia Post to deliver the vital information and, indeed, as Senator Carr has indicated, the vital service that's provided through Australia Post in delivering medication to older Australians right across this country.

Senator Colbeck is not the only one who is responsible for making sure that older Australians are made aware of changes that will impact on their lives. In fact, there are many champions who do listen to the older community around this country. One of them on his own team is Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who herself raised concerns the government had acted in haste in delivering regulatory reform without proper scrutiny that is going to make a significant change to the way that Australia Post operates.

We have heard all of the excuses under the sun from those opposite who have participated in this debate this afternoon about why we should trust this government—that the changes they're going to bring in are only temporary. But we cannot afford to trust this government. This is a government which, just a couple weeks ago, misplaced $60 billion. This is the government that delivered robo-debt, and the impact of that on hundreds and thousands of Australians is something that they should be absolutely ashamed of. This is the government that has proven over and over again to Australians that it is completely untrustworthy.

One of the critical things that we know from Australia Post right across this country, and particularly in regional Australia, is how central it is to every single community. The community that I live in on the Central Coast has a very small post office in the newsagency—that is commonly where these things are located—and it is a hub for the distribution of information around our community. The posties who operate out of these post offices across the country not only deliver very important mail and essential goods, such as pharmaceuticals, to Australians right across this nation but they are also part of the social fabric of the country. Just being able to move around the community to deliver mail and noticing when mail isn't picked up are important ways in which the community is able to keep track of what's happening amongst the population that is being served by each of those Australia Post offices.

Senator Carr raised a very, very important point about the detail that is embedded in the explanatory memorandum that relates to the actions that are possible from this government with regard to Australia Post. The determination of Australia Post as an essential service makes it very, very different from other entities around this country. Having a ratio of Australia Post outlets not only provides security for the delivery of mail, and also of parcels, but it also provides important distribution for an essential service. There are serious considerations given by governments of both persuasions from time to time about how the network of Australia Post might provide additional services and access to government services. An assumption is often made by those who don't understand the true nature of access to internet in this country; but not all Australians have access to internet services and the sort of shopping that has been described in this debate this afternoon. People who don't have the internet are particularly vulnerable when it comes to interacting with the government and they need access to the proper services which only Australia Post can provide. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.