I also rise tonight to speak on the Environment and Communication Legislation Committee’s report on its inquiry into the performance, importance and role of Australia Post in Australian communities and its operation in relation to licensed post offices.
While I am no longer a member of this committee, Australia Post and this inquiry in particular are issues that I still have a strong interest in. In recent months, licensed post office licensees have contacted me with their concerns about the future of their post office businesses in Tasmania. Post office businesses are the heart of the communities. They are a vital piece of infrastructure for our nation and are an extremely important part of the Australian social fabric. Apart from the obvious letter and parcel services they provide, they also provide important banking and bill-paying services and act as a focal point for their communities. You know a community has died when it no longer has a post office. Licensed post offices are under considerable financial stress and serious changes are needed in the way they interact with Australia Post.
I am pleased to see that the committee has addressed a large number of the issues that post office licensees have raised with me—in particular through recommendations 12 to 15. Australia Post licensees have been particularly concerned about the additional costs caused by the rapid rise in the number of parcels and the need to store them when a delivery is unsuccessful. Recommendation 13 recommends that ‘Australia Post review parcel storage requirements in licensed post offices with a view to providing payments for those licensees who incur additional storage costs.’
One of the issues that I was quite stunned to learn about is the issue of returning out-of-date stamps. Senator Williams mentioned this issue, and I would like to concur with his comments. Last night, when this report was first spoken on, a number of senators mentioned the issue as well. So I think through this place there is great agreement about the concerns regarding this issue. As Senator Williams said, current practice does not allow for post office licensees to return stamps that they have purchased that useable because the postal rate has changed. I found this to be quite despicable. It is a case of the corporate division profiteering at the expense of post office licensees. I am extremely pleased that recommendation 15 recommends that ‘Australia Post allow for the return of unsold and out-of-date stamps by licensees and franchisees’. Licensees should not be unfairly punished simply for keeping in stock Australian Post products.
Licensees—particularly in southern Tasmania but some in other areas of Tasmania—have also expressed concern to me on the very small margins for postal products they sell on behalf of Australia Post and the limited payments they receive for post office boxes. One licensee spoke to me about the price of selling a ream of paper that Australia Post supplies. It was actually cheaper for them to go to the local Woolworths and buy the paper there than it was for them to sell it in their own post office at the recommended retail price. Recommendation 14 recommends that ‘Australia Post review the margins on postal products it sells to licensees with a view to ensure that margins are in line with commercial practice’. Recommendation 12 recommends that ‘Australia Post, as a matter of urgency, reassess post office box payments to licensees to ensure that they reflect the true costs borne by licensees in providing this service’. The government must now have the courage to adopt these unanimous recommendations to give post office licensees a fair go and ensure that regional licensed post offices remain viable. I would also like to note the Labor senators’ additional comments in this report, and I quote:
Labor Senators are concerned that the Government is irresponsibly seeking to use the prospect of increased remuneration and post office visits from additional trusted services as a financial lifeline for Licensed Post Offices.
They noted that:
… all the submitters who support the outsourcing of services provided by Centrelink and Medicare to Australia Post rely on the prospect of additional revenue for Australia Post and LPO operators as justification for the measure.
The Labor senators recommended that:
The Government not outsource any functions of the Department of Human Services to Australia Post.
Post offices are not Centrelink offices. Australia Post office licensees and their staff should not be used by this government to shift work and costs away from the Department of Human Services. It is just not right.
There is great concern in the community about the viability of the 3,200 licensed post offices in regional Australia. Next week I hope to table a petition that has been signed by around 1,000 customers of licensed post offices around Australia. The development of this petition came out of concerns from the licensed post offices in Tasmania talking to me. I would like to thank the Licensed Post Office Group for their efforts in distributing this petition and the time that they have taken to keep me informed on the issues of concern for their members.
I am extremely pleased that recommendation 11 recommends that the definition of ‘association’ in the LPO agreement be amended to include the LPO Group. Senator Williams referred to the organisation that allegedly is representing the licensed post offices and the concerns that everyone on the committee had with regard to that. And, once again, I would endorse his comments in that regard. The Licensed Post Office Group have done an excellent job in informing the committee and advocating on behalf of their members, and I hope this recommendation, along with the other recommendations of the committee, is adopted with alacrity. I seek leave to continue my remarks.