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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2471


Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(11.35) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is designed to implement the Australian Labor Party's platform as it relates to postal services. The ALP platform contains commitments to:

The development of an efficient postal system on the basis of a publicly owned national utility with exclusive rights to carry letters for reward;

The postal system to be available to Australians who reasonably require the service;

Electronic mail to be handled by Australia Post; and

Australia Post to be empowered to competitively market a variety of services including high-speed and door-to-door pick up and delivery services.

The Bill gives effect to these commitments by restoring the courier service, giving Australia Post power to operate electronic mail services, by retaining and clarifying the monopoly provisions and allowing Australia Post to enter a wider range of agency arrangements. The Bill gives effect to Government decisions following consideration of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Monopoly Position of the Australian Postal Commission-the Bradley Committee- which I announced on 9 August 1983.

The major provisions in the Bill are those which give powers to the Australian Postal Commission to operate courier services and to establish electronic mail services in its own right. Honourable members may recall that until 1980, Australia Post was successfully managing courier services in competition with the private sector; but under the short-sighted policy of the former Government its power to operate courier services was removed. This action was taken following the Review of Commonwealth Functions in the apparent belief that operation of courier services was a function which should be undertaken only by the private sector. The previous Government's decision was short-sighted in that it did not take account of Australia Post's need to provide the full range of postal and related services including the kind of fast, personalised postal service which the community demands for items needing reliable special delivery treatment.

The power for Australia Post to operate electronic mail services in its own right is necessary to ensure the Commission can remain at the forefront of providing modern day communications services utilising the latest technological developments. In general, electronic mail services provide for the transmission of documents by both electronic and physical means. The simplest example is the transmission of documents by facsimile-combined with physical pick-up or delivery of the hard copy by the courier service. Other types of service are under study by Australia Post such as bulk mail services using linked computers and mail preparation and delivery facilities. It is difficult to forecast how electronic mail services will develop in the future or the degree to which they may replace traditional services, but it is clear that Australia Post must be able to participate. There are a number of consequential amendments in the Bill which flow from the provision of power to establish courier and electronic mail services.

The Bill also provides for Australia Post to enter into agency arrangements with private sector principals. This is an extension of the existing power which enables Australia Post to enter agency arrangements with public sector principals. This measure will enable Australia Post to utilise its national network of post offices to provide supplementary services which should particularly benefit people in country areas. It also appears inequitable that private sector principals should be precluded from access to this network which is available to their public sector competitors. Extension of agency services in this way should lead to increased revenue to Australia Post thus benefiting all postal users.

Turning to the monopoly provisions for Australia Post, it needs to be borne in mind that these apply only in relation to carriage of letters. A good deal of Australia Post's business such as the parcel post and carriage of non-letter articles is subject to competition. That competition comes from transport firms, courier services and the growing private delivery services. The Bradley Committee reaffirmed the necessity for Australia Post's basic monopoly on letters to continue if Australia was to have a uniform nation-wide postal service. The Government strongly endorsed that view as being consistent with the ALP platform.

The Government considered a number of the exemptions to the monopoly proposed by Bradley. It decided to accept the recommendations that letters subject to a premium fee not be subject to the monopoly. Mostly such premium fees are charged by private courier services for speed pick up and delivery of letters. The amendment in the Bill will regularise this situation without putting Australia Post's essential basic monopoly in jeopardy. The Government has decided that the minimum premium fee should be 10 times the basic domestic letter rate, currently 30c. This will mean, for example, that private courier services will be able to carry letters for reward exempt from the Commission's monopoly if they charge a minimum of $3. Similar provision has been made for private sector carriage of letters to overseas destinations.

The Bill also proposes a number of amendments of a technical nature such as allowing meetings to be held and decisions taken without all commissioners being physically present. It extends the power to lease or sell any land vested in the Commission and increases the amount payable for rewards for information. A further amendment allows for officers of the Commission to retire at the age of 55 years rather than at 60 years. This gives effect to another election undertaking of the Government and is complementary to a provision in another Bill before the Parliament which provides for a similar condition for officers of Telecom Australia. The opportunity has also been taken to clarify and restate the powers of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Commission to make by -laws. This has become desirable because some doubts have been raised about the effect of the procedures of notification adopted by the commissions to this time . Because of significance of the by-laws to Telecom and Australia Post it has been decided to adopt the prudent approach of putting the validity of by-laws beyond doubt.

I believe the proposals in the Bill before the House will mark a significant milestone in Australia Post's operations. The powers encompassed in the Bill will enable Australia Post to offer new and dynamic services, make more efficient use of its extensive network of post offices, better meet the needs of the public and tap potential new technological developments which are both challenging and exciting. Altogether, Australia Post will be placed in the position of providing fast, reliable and comprehensive postal services for the benefit of all Australians. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lloyd) adjourned.

TAXATION (UNPAID COMPANY TAX) ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT BILL 1983 [No. 3]