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.

6:36 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very important issue. Over the last week or so I've had meetings with the CEO of Australia Post, the IR manager and postal services delivery, plus also the unions. There have been conversations on teleconferences. I've really spent many, many hours dealing with this matter, and I think it's very important because it does affect the workers of Australia Post.

I think there has been a lot of scaremongering going on, especially by the Labor Party and pushed by the unions. Let's put some facts on the table. They said that it's about COVID-19. This is the first time, when we've had this pandemic, that we've actually had to change the way that we do business in this country. A lot of people have lost their jobs, by all means, but in Australia Post they haven't. They've done a fantastic job to pick up the cudgel and actually keep going in doing the work that they did. They have actually taken the mail and deliveries to people. We know that over the period of time in years gone by the delivery of letters has declined considerably. Even the unions admit that. They are also saying that the increased number of parcels to be delivered is what has been the impact on the services provided by the postal workers. For example, in one day alone, they had an increase of 160 per cent in parcels. The reason some of the deliveries aren't happening is that, when COVID-19 happened, a lot of the older workers were actually asked not to come in because of safe-distancing, because of their age and because they were worried about their health. Therefore, there was a backlog of deliveries. It was also because Qantas and Virgin, who flew a lot of the parcels around the country to get the mail delivered, were of course put on hold. It was very hard, so they had to bring in contractors. About 60 per cent of the deliveries of the parcels were handed to contractors because they couldn't handle the increased load of parcels that needed to be delivered.

What is being said now in the scaremongering is they expect the parcel delivery to be cut off, and then it was going to be privatised. There is no intention from the government or the CEO to privatise Australia Post. I have actually spoken to the minister, and this would be a piece of legislation. As long as One Nation has some say in this chamber, or even if we have the balance of power, at no time would I ever support privatising Australia Post. But that is not the point, because neither the CEO of Australia Post nor the government has any intention of privatising Australia Post—any part of it whatsoever. That has been a scaremongering tactic used by the Labor Party. When you actually look at which of the 8,000 jobs they are saying they are going to lose, they are basically those around the cities who deliver the mail. Because of a reduction in the number of letters out there—quite a lot of reduction in letters—they want to do a delivery every second day. It will not get rid of anyone whatsoever on those four postal runs. You still have two who will be doing the deliveries and the other two will be dealing with parcels. So it will not lose people's jobs. Australia Post has people leaving all the time, but they want to transition people, if they were on the bikes, and put them into safe vehicles to deliver their part—a car, in effect. So, get them off the bikes, which are dangerous for the older posties—the over-60s. So, they are looking after their safety. Basically, they want to get them into other areas of parcel delivery, because the bikes cannot carry the parcels. This is the way the Australian consumer is going. They are looking more at parcel delivery than at letters.

Australia Post was poorly run for a long time by a CEO who was paid $5.6 million in his last year. Now, we have a CEO who is intent to pulling that back. They are now making a profit. It is an organisation that has not actually gotten rid of jobs. They haven't done that, yet they have put Australia Post into the black. This is an organisation that they wish to see grow. You can only grow it, with expanding business, by running it properly. A lot of the members in this parliament have never run a business—they have no idea. Unions are not there to run businesses. This is why we have a management committee and a CEO to run the business of Australia Post.

I can understand the workers being very concerned about their futures and their jobs, but there is nothing there to say that they are about to lose their jobs. I have seen the documentation and there has been a lot of misreading of it. They told me things were going to happen but they couldn't prove that. That is why, having met with the unions and the CEO again today, we came to an understanding and agreement that there will be a Senate inquiry into this, which will report by 11 August. They both agreed to that and they both want it. At that Senate inquiry, we senators can then ask them these questions. They have to present the documentation and they have to present the truth. This disallowance motion is not going to help anything, because, unless we move forward with an industry that provides a lot of jobs in Australia and a service for the Australian people, we are not going to be able to service the community.

This is about moving forward. COVID-19 is about having to change our ways and how we do business, so that we can provide a service to the community and also maintain the jobs out there. When you have a growing business, as Australia Post is, you don't get rid of your staff. You done threaten them. They want to keep them on because they are experienced and they are loyal. They have had a great working relationship with their workers and with the unions. Even the unions themselves told me that. A lot of mistruths have been put out there and that has been expanded on by the Labor Party, because you are backed by the unions and you are pushing your own agenda. I am not going to allow that to happen. That is why I am standing here speaking on behalf of the workers. They need assurances that their jobs are going to be there for them. That is what is very important in this debate. Both sides of the House have to realise that it is not all about them and the pushing of their own agenda; it is what is right for the people. It is about working together.

This is only a regulation, which will finish on 1 July 2021 and then be reviewed. By that time we may have a totally different system, but this is about providing a service to people in Australia. Like I said, that is most important. People want those products delivered to them. That's why there has been an increase. Australia Post are trying to look at it realistically, and they are trying to work with the workers.

Another point that was brought to my attention is that Australia Post offered the workers a one per cent bonus. They offered it to the workers; the workers didn't ask for it. Australia Post said, 'You've done a fantastic job. You continued to do your work—you went and knocked on these doors—and we didn't know where we were going with COVID-19.' So they offered a one per cent bonus to the workers of Australia Post—36,000 workers—at a cost of $22 million. They respect their workers. You don't offer that if you intend to get rid of them. Also, there is no intention to pay them out—no redundancies. There will be no redundancies offered to these workers, because they want them to transition to doing the jobs and delivering parcels.

So what has been said is totally misleading, and you are going to scare a lot of people out there who work for Australia Post and who want assurances that their jobs will be there. The community, the Australian people, want to know that their Australia Post is going to be there for them, as well. It will be. I reiterate: there is no intention of privatising Australia Post, there is no intention of offering redundancy and there is no intention of getting rid of the workers. Australia Post want them to transition into other areas so they can provide services to the Australian people. I am hoping the evidence will come out in the inquiry. The truth of the matter will be produced. We should go on from there to ensure that Australia Post survives for a long time to come, in the hands of the government, for the people.

6:47 pm

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

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.

7:02 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to this debate this evening. As one of the co-sponsors of this motion, I of course wholeheartedly agree that this regulation should be disallowed. We've heard time and time again in the midst of this debate that the reason this regulation is needed is that we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, what type of government cuts essential public services in the middle of a health crisis? What type of government cuts essential public services when everyday Australians are being told, 'Stay home and don't go anywhere; do everything from your lounge room, your kitchen and your back porch'? What type of government cuts essential public services in the middle of a pandemic? This government. It's this government that is using the pandemic to allow its creep of privatisation into Australia Post.

We heard from Pauline Hanson and One Nation tonight that they are prepared to take the word of the Australia Post boss and the minister that everything's going to be okay. Here on the Greens benches, we are not so foolish. We are not so gullible. There has been no commitment given that this would be a short-term suspension, and in fact it's not. This regulation would put in place new rules to cut delivery services, resulting in job losses, for another 12 months. And we know what happens when the government cuts public services—it's very, very hard to get them back.

I'm quite concerned about the principle of this, because I do believe that Australia Post is an essential service that needs to remain in public hands, for metro, suburban, rural and regional areas—for everyone. I do have a particular concern that, for senior Australians, this is going to be a blow. They are people who are more likely to engage with government agencies, with utility services and with friends and family via letters as opposed to electronically. It's senior Australians who are going to cop it because of this cruel and cynical move from the government.

I've also got a particular concern for those who live in rural and regional Australia. I grew up in a country town. I know what it's like when the government of the day decides to cut public services and says: 'Oh, well, it doesn't really matter. You're just a small town. You can drive 100 kays down the road to the next post office.' In some cases, maybe it's 150 kilometres, maybe it's 200 kilometres or maybe it's more.

I also happen to be the sister of someone who's been a postie. My brother's been a postie in a country town, the country town I grew up in. It is absolutely essential that, in country and rural areas, the people who have these jobs right now are able to keep them. We know that we are heading to a cliff of unemployment that is going to start rising more and more. We already had hundreds of thousands of people—a million people—lose their jobs in the last three months because of COVID-19. Millions more are worried about what happens come September, when the government cuts JobKeeper. Are we going to allow a cut to public services through this regulation that is going to mean more Australians out of work not because of COVID-19 but because of the government's actions, and not because of the virus but because of the government's obsession with cuts, deregulation and the slow creep, creep, creep to privatisation?

Thousands of Australians who currently work for Australia Post could be out of work because of this regulation. One Nation and the minister tell us, 'No, it's just for 12 months.' No-one believes that, and if you do you're a fool. The slow creep to privatisation is the hallmark of the conservatives in this country—state and federal. It's not going to change. Senior Australians should be very upset that their government is about to sell them out, rural and regional Australians should be very upset that the government doesn't think they deserve these basic services, and everyone should be worried that the government is once again using COVID-19 as a cover for its reckless and cruel policy agenda.

Only a couple of weeks ago, last month, the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, proudly said on radio that the government is going to use COVID-19 for an 'aggressive deregulation agenda'. Well, here is just one simple example of that. This government couldn't lie straight in bed when they talk about their commitment to essential services, to public jobs. Every single time they utter their words of, 'Oh, no cuts, no privatisation,' look behind their backs and see their crossed fingers. We know the hallmark of this government is cuts, deregulation and job losses. This disallowance should be supported by the chamber tonight.

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.

7:16 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Carr is a big on gusto and light on truth. Here's a letter from the consulting organisation that is advocating on behalf of the union. It is addressed to 'Dear Patricia', who is on Senator Hanson's staff. This letter was received at 5.36 pm today. It reads: 'Dear Patricia. Please pass on my thanks to Senator Hanson for her actions in the Senate today to put the regulations to a committee inquiry and ensure the reporting date was brought forward to August rather than March. I think neither the government, who wanted the regulations passed without scrutiny, nor the opposition, who wanted the inquiry extended to March, are thrilled with this outcome. But it is the right one for postal workers'—it is the right one for postal workers, she says; she is advocating on behalf of the union—'it is the right one for Australia Post management, Australia Post customers and, importantly, for the ability of the Senate to properly scrutinise legislation.' This is someone advocating on behalf of the union. She goes on: 'As I said at the end of the meeting, Senator Hanson and I may not agree on everything, but, on protecting jobs for essential workers, protecting services for Australian citizens and keeping public services in Australian ownership, we share a common goal.' Let me read that again. She says she and Senator Hanson have the common goal of protecting jobs for essential workers, protecting services for Australian citizens and keeping public services in Australian ownership. That is Senator Hanson's goal, shared by the unions. She finished by saying, 'Thank you again for your time this morning.'

Let me read you what I received just a few moments ago in a text message from Angela Cramp, who is leading the Licensed Post Office Group: 'Oh my God! Maybe you should run down and tell Kim Carr'—this was while Senator Carr was speaking—'that his issue was on the table in 2014 and he brought the wrong speech with him.' Then she came back again and said: 'He's actually embarrassing himself. He is so off topic.' And then she expressed some sympathy for me: 'Seriously, I don't know how you guys put up with this rubbish.'

What is going on is just stunning. Senator Hanson listens because she cares. She listens to all sides. She has been in and out of the government's offices in the last two days with a member of my staff and a member of her staff—because she cares enough to get the facts. The facts are what should be driving any decision. If you care enough, you get the facts first. And that is what Senator Hanson does—because she cares. We are in frequent contact with the Licensed Post Office Group because we know they have been left out in the cold and hung out to dry by both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. I had Angela Cramp in my office today telling me that, agreeing with me. What is the matter with governance in this country when we don't listen to the people whose lives are being affected? Angela Cramp and the others are saying they are supportive of the proposed changes because that is being fair to the people. If we lie to them, if we mislead them and give them false hope, that is no good for them. They need better than that.

Before I go on I want to acknowledge our hardworking post office workers and post office licensees across Australia. In considering the impact of the government's—

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Roberts, that might be a good moment to pause. You will have the opportunity to resume your comments tomorrow. It being 7:20, debate on the motion is now interrupted. Debate will continue as a business of the Senate order of the day tomorrow.