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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2800

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Communications. Has the Minister noted reports last week that Australia Post last year achieved a record $144.1m operating profit for 1990-91, over a $70.1m profit for the previous year, and that the Managing Director of Australia Post, Ms Rae Taylor, said that her organisation's rate of growth had contracted sharply over the past two years and that its real achievement had been in its delivery performance? Is the Minister aware that in the past two years Australia Post has closed hundreds of country post offices, replacing them with franchises and agencies, and that this was done under pressure from the Federal Government in order to move the organisation to a commercial footing? Does this current record profit now mean that Australia Post has all but abandoned any concept of promoting public benefit before profit? Can the Minister give an unequivocal guarantee to those in rural Australia who rely so heavily on their postal services for vital communications and deliveries that their current services will not be reduced?

Senator COLLINS —The performance of the Australian post office is indeed a primary concern of the Government. It is not simply a question of profits but the efficiency of performance that is a major aim of this kind of restructuring. Australia Post has achieved a record profit of $144.1m but it is important, from a customer point of view, to say that 94 per cent of mail was delivered on time and most of the balance was delivered within one day or more. The performance of the post office was measured against delivery standards that are generally a day faster than in countries such as Canada and the United States. I must note in passing that of great assistance to Australia Post's financial and delivery performance has been the lowest level of industrial disputation in the organisation since its establishment in 1975.

  Other highlights of 1991 in terms of improved service to customers have been a productivity improvement of 1.6 per cent; the announcement of an independent monitoring of letter delivering service performance; a decrease in the basic postage rate in real terms for the sixth successive year, for the benefit of all Australians—those living in country areas as well as those living in urban areas; the opening of 30 new retail postal facilities; and the completion of a new network of parcel centres to improve delivery performance. From just those few things I have noted, it can be clearly seen that the very extensive restructuring that Australia Post has undergone is directed not only to improving service for customers but also to delivering it.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for using my question to give us a good, long story about Australia Post's annual report, but I asked the Minister whether he would give an unequivocal guarantee that the current services of those in rural Australia who rely so heavily on their postal services for vital communications and deliveries will not be reduced.

Senator COLLINS —My answer was directly related to Senator Bjelke-Petersen's question. Indeed, the first part of it related directly to the profits of Australia Post. The point I made is that the improvements in the efficiency of Australia Post have been marked. As I said, the benefits of those efficiencies are being received by all Australians, not just those in urban areas. The continuing review of Australia Post's facilities will be conducted on precisely the same criteria as those that are applied now—that is, that both the efficiency and improvements to services for customers will continue.