Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Senator Watt. In 2018, then Australia Post CEO, Christine Holgate, secured a deal with the CBA, NAB and Westpac to pay $20 million each every year as a representation fee to serve their customers at Bank@Post. Will the minister confirm that this fee has been halved in the new agreement to $10 million a year each?
Thank you, Senator Hanson, for that question. I will have to take the precise details of that question on notice; I don't have that information to hand. But I know that many Australians right around Australia, particularly in rural and regional areas, depend very heavily on Australia Post services. That's something we very much support.
For instance, we stood very much against the—
Ah, Senator Rennick gets a go. His own side won't give him a go so he has to have a go during Senator Hanson's question. What I was actually about to say, prior to Senator Rennick's interjection, was that Labor has always stood against the privatisation of Australia Post, for example. But the nature of Australia Post's services is changing over the years. I know that they're increasingly moving towards parcel services rather than postage, but they do provide a vital service to rural and regional areas in particular—as well as servicing our cities increasingly with the parcel business that they have been operating.
Senator Hanson, I'm happy to come back to you on notice with the answer to your specific question as soon as I get those details.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that you don't know the answer to that, but I have been told on good advice that it is $10 million a year. A lot of these post offices actually rely on the money that they're making from that $20 million a year—it makes them viable and able to keep their doors open. The banks are making billions of dollars in profit a year. If this is the case, and they have actually dropped to $10 million a year, what will your government do to address this?
Thank you, Senator Hanson. Obviously, a number of these types of matters are ultimately decisions for the board of Australia Post rather than for the government of the day, because it does have a degree of independence. However, we are concerned about the number of outlets that are available, particularly in rural and regional areas, and I know that this is an issue that you've taken up in the past, Senator Hanson.
Currently, Australia Post, for instance, has about 4,300 retail outlets across the country and it has a legislated net requirement to maintain at least 4,000 retail outlets. As I was saying, I recognise—and I think that everyone in our government recognises—that these post offices play a key role in communities around Australia. As I've already reflected, this is particularly true in regional Australia, where we often find that it's the Australia Post outlets which also serve as the bank and even offer a range of government services. I know that these issues— (Time expired)
I don't know if you're aware of this, but since the beginning of 2021 more than 200 branches of the big four banks have closed or have been announced as closing, mostly in regional areas, with customers shunted to bank at Australia Post outlets. What is your government going to do to counteract bank closures and the lack of staff happening across the country, mainly in rural and regional areas? Is the government actually going to start addressing this, pull the banks into line and say that they must provide the services necessary for Australians?
WATT (—) (): I think we're probably straying outside the responsibilities I have as a representing minister, let alone as the minister, but I'll do my best to answer the question. Again, I am definitely concerned about the decreasing number of branches that we see in retail banks across country areas in Australia, and I guess I particularly now see that through my role as the agriculture minister. It was only last week that I had a conversation in rural South Australia—I'm pretty sure the conversation happened there—about the impacts of bank closures in those communities and how it places real pressure on those communities when they can't access those services. Actually, I remember now; it was Moree where I was having the conversation.
So it is a problem. I think banks do have a community obligation to provide services to their customers. As we see those banks withdraw, that does also put more pressure on Australia Post outlets. I know that's the fundamental point you're trying to make, but I'll come back to you with some more answers.