I rise tonight to speak on a topic that is very important to everyone who lives in regionalAustralia, but particularly to those who live in my home state of Tasmania. I spoke about this issue the other night, and tonight I want to add a bit more—and the issue is licensed post offices.
Licensed post offices are independently run small businesses that are the heart of many regional communities. In Tasmania, there exist around 150 LPOs, compared to around 20 Australia Post corporation-run post offices. They provide, of course, the mail services and postal products that you would expect; but, in addition, they also provide banking, bill paying and stationery services. They might also be attached to the local service station or grocery store. In some cases, they may be the only business left in a town. They provide a local meeting place and notice board. They are vital to life in small towns like Sheffield, Bicheno, Winnaleah, St Mary’s and many other towns throughout Tasmania. Over 92 percent of rural Tasmanian communities are serviced by privately owned LPOs. You know a community has not got much time left when the local post office shuts down. They are a real meeting place, a real centre of community focus. LPOs are the face of Australia Post, the Australia-wide government owned corporation, for millions of regional Australians—but many of these local post offices are in trouble.
In recent months, LPO licensees have contacted me with their concerns about the future of their post office businesses in Tasmania. Their cost of doing business has increased markedly since the first post office licences were sold in 1993, and the remuneration for their services has not increased to match. Changes in the way the postal service is used by the community have also affected the viability of LPOs—for example, the volumes of parcels have grown exponentially with the explosion in online shopping over the last few years, yet only recently has the carded parcel fee increased by a couple of cents from the rate originally set in 1993. This is despite the cost of storage space and of staff labour having grown considerably over that time. And it is clear, through the high wholesale prices for LPOs to buy stock from Australia Post, that the corporation is seeking not only to shift costs to LPOs but to profiteer from them at the same time.
There is great concern in the community about the viability of the 3,200 licensed post offices in regional Australia. Earlier today, I lodged a petition with 1,219 signatures asking the Senate to take action to ensure that licensed post office operators are treated fairly and receive appropriate remuneration for the services they provide on behalf of Australia Post. I am pleased that the Environment and Communications References Committee agrees with these sentiments, as evidenced by the recommendations of their unanimous report on its inquiry into the performance, importance and role of Australia Post. The adoption of these recommendations would increase the viability of LPOs and would fulfil the aims of the petition I tabled earlier. It is up to senators in this place to ensure that Australia Post adopts the recommendations of this report and starts compensating LPO licensees fairly and treating them with respect.
Copies of the petition I mentioned earlier only appeared in a few small towns in Tasmania and they were only there for a few weeks. The organisation that is meant to stand up for licensees, the Post Office Agents Association Limited, otherwise known as POAAL, was unreceptive to giving their members this petition, which is quite astounding. I would like to echo Senator Xenophon’s comments, when he made a speech when the report was tabled, for licensees to consider seriously who is representing them—or who is not—and to look to the LPO Group, who I think do a much better job in advocating for their members.
The Licensed Post Office Group have done an excellent job in informing the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee and advocating on behalf of their members. I hope Australia Post will adopt the committee’s recommendation—I believe it was No. 11—that the definition of association in the LPO agreement be amended to include the LPO Group as soon as possible.
I would like to thank Bob Richardson from the LPO Group in Tasmania and all the operators of LPOs that I have spoken to about this issue. Australia Post is the second-most trusted brand in Australia, but much of that trust is due to the hard work, commitment and dedication of the licensed post office licensees and their staff. They deserve to be treated much better by the Australia Post Corporation.