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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 4


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (12:46 PM) —I will be very brief in responding to the amendment moved by Labor and supported by the Democrats. The government will not be accepting the amendment. The opposition has moved an amendment which, if adopted, would result in membership of the Postal Industry Ombudsman scheme being mandatory for what might be described as ‘large private postal operators’, yet we have evidence that there has been only something like 37 complaints. It seems a very disproportionate reaction to then require everybody over a certain threshold to be subject to the scheme. That brings me to the point that I have not heard very clearly articulated from the opposition in bringing forward this amendment: why the threshold that is being advocated for private postal operator membership is there. It seems to me to be entirely unsubstantiated. It is certainly an arbitrary threshold and it is unclear just how many operators would be affected. It seems to be, from the point of view of both the Democrats and Labor, ‘big’ as opposed to ‘little’, but it usually has to be a bit more precise than that when you are developing policy. There is no indication of what will happen to operators who do not comply; no thought appears to have been given to the mechanism for prosecuting who would be captured under the amendment; and there does not appear to be any evidence, at least not that I have been able to see, to suggest that there is a greater incidence of complaints against private postal operators comprising 20 or more employees and with an annual turnover of greater than $1 million—that is, the threshold—than any other service provider. It is a clear example of trying to score a point—policy on the run, without any clear policy rationale.

The government believes that the opt-in provisions of the scheme will be attractive to a large number of private postal operators who can use it, obviously if they wish, as some distinguishing marketing aspect of their business. Indeed, it may be a marketing advantage to postal service providers over their competitors. Registering with the scheme may be attractive to all operators as they could present it as a benefit to customers using their services, and it has the advantage that the PIO would also serve as the final arbiter for the resolution of difficult disputes, which obviously would be of benefit to both the postal service providers and their consumers.

Once again, for the policy reasons that I have advanced, we think it is not appropriate to load up businesses with yet more obligations when there is a disproportionate policy need to respond to. As I have previously indicated, there were 37 complaints and that does not warrant the disproportionate burden of requiring all operators over a certain threshold to join it. For those reasons the government will not be supporting the amendment. My view is that, even on reflection and even if we can find out the answers to these questions, there would need to be much more policy work to look at the proposed threshold than is possible with an amendment brought forward at the last minute and, I suspect, for dubious reasons.