11 August 2020
South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has signalled he will advocate for Australia Post to lose its legislative monopoly on letter delivery in Australia if it doesn't continue its legislated obligation to deliver letters every business day.
"Australia Post can't refuse to provide a vital service to Australians and expect to keep others from filling the gap," said Senator Patrick. "That's not right."
Throughout COVID-19 Australia Post is only required to deliver letters in the metropolitan areas every second business day instead of every business day. The change is purported as temporary by Australia Post, but there are suggestions the change will be permanent as the organisation restructures itself to direct more resources at parcel delivery services.
The Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 imposes a Community Service Obligation (CSO) 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.
The explanatory memorandum associated with the original bill in 1988 talked about a quid pro quo.
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.
"Australia Post has exclusive rights in Australia to carry letters. No-one else can deliver letters; it's against the law. The organisation built their reputation and their iconic status on the letter service. That was a core part of the Australia Post business and image – posties on a red motorbikes navigating footpaths to deliver letters."
"Now it looks like they want to reduce the CSOs. In responses to questions at a Senate inquiry looking into the reduction of the letter service Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate refused to be drawn on whether they are willing to open letter delivery to the market in circumstances where they are unwilling to do it."
"It appears Australia Post want to have their letters and deliver them too, albeit late." said Senator Patrick. "That's not acceptable."
"The operation of the national post service has been and still is one of the core functions of the 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."
"One hundred and twenty years later the Government and Australia Post has lost sight of the fact it is a community service provider, not a business".
"Whilst I appreciate there has been a loss of demand, people who still have that demand are usually elderly people who don't know about or don't like to use email and digital platforms that other people 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 each and every day."
"Australia Post appears to be looking at this in the same way a private enterprise might look at a bus service with some unprofitable routes. They 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'."
"But that's not how you look after a community. That's not how you look after the Australian people - the people who actually own Australia Post."