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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 363

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (1.28 p.m.) —I want to make a few remarks on the Australian Postal Corporation Amendment Bill, though I will not be closing the debate. Senator Bourne wants to speak later so, at the end of my brief remarks, I will be moving that the debate be adjourned to a later hour today so that Senator Bourne can make a few remarks in the second reading stage before it goes into committee.

  I just want to say, after hearing Senator Alston's contribution, that it is riddled with great contradiction. He is arguing that there has got to be greater competition for the post office, all over the place, but he refuses to deal adequately with the issue of the community service obligation. I think that is also the weakness of Senator Tierney's comments, though I must say that Senator Tierney made a more rational attempt to explain his case with more detail than the rantings of the boofheaded contribution from Senator Alston, which was full of rhetoric and all it was doing was `slagging', to use that term, Australia Post. I do not think that is fair to Australia Post, to the staff and to the contribution it makes to Australia.

  He got on to the Hilmer debate. Every commentator, other than Senator Alston, quite rightly pointed the finger at various state premiers last Friday for not biting the bullet on taking up the Hilmer theme on competition. We would point out that, even before this bill, 40 per cent of the revenues of Australia Post are subject to competition. With these amendments, that will become 50 per cent. There is no doubt that most of the state government run monopolies have not one percentage point of competition for their revenues. They are 100 per cent state owned monopolies. To compare the Australia Post situation with the situation of any of the state monopolies is absolutely wrong. We reject those remarks. I think Senator Alston was trying to deflect attention from the appalling performance of a number of Liberal premiers last Friday.

  We believe that this bill is achieving that balance between competition and the needs of the public through community service. That will always be the case. I find it particularly odd that the opposition, which claims to speak for rural Australia and regional Australia, would denigrate the post office. If one goes to regional and rural Australia, one will find that every community will defend the retention of the Australian post office. They want their post office to continue. They want to maintain that building in the main street. What Senator Tierney was talking about or, in particular, what Senator Alston was rabbiting on about would mean an absolute certainty that many more of those post offices would disappear because of what the opposition is proposing.

Senator Tierney —Nonsense!

Senator Panizza —Nonsense!

Senator SCHACHT —Absolutely. I think this is the great myth of the opposition. At one stage it is claiming the virtues of competition but I bet two bob to London Bridge that, if a country post office in the wheat belt of Western Australia was being closed because competition had meant it had lost business, Senator Panizza would be the first to jump up with a petition questioning parliament saying, `Retain my post office at Southern Cross' or `Retain my post office at Doodlakine' for Senator Walsh. They would be the first in here complaining, `Why is it being closed?' The reason they would be closed would overwhelmingly occur if we adopted the opposition's policy. So this government is getting the balance right between having a competitive post office, customer related, and meeting the community obligation. The opposition has not got it right; it cannot have it both ways.

  This is typical of the opposition; it always argues theoretically for complete competition but when the first bit of heat occurs that may affect something in the rural community it jumps up and wants another subsidy, more underpinning, more public money to be provided. That is what the opposition is on about. It keeps putting that view in the rural areas in particular. We are not going to buy its story; we are not going to buy its policy because we know rural and regional Australia will be the most affected by the policies—as far as I can understand them—outlined by the shadow minister, Senator Alston.

  I do not want to go on too long; like most senators, I want to go and put my nose in the feedbag before question time. I do want to say one thing about this bagging of the Australian Postal Corporation: it is absolutely unwarranted. Of course an organisation as big as the Australian Postal Corporation with many employees running a system of communication across our vast continent is not going to get it right all the time, but not even private enterprise would get it right all the time.

  As minister for small business, I want to give two examples that may surprise honourable senators opposite about the way Australia Post is serving the community. A few months ago I visited a firm in Melbourne called Billiecart Clothing Co., an Australian owned company that makes clothing for children between the ages of six months and 11 years of age. It sells its clothing not through retail outlets—it is Australian made—but through the technique of party selling. There are salespeople in the community selling it directly to the customer. The company has a turnover of many millions of dollars a year and sells hundreds and hundreds of thousands of items.

  I said, `I can understand all that but how do you distribute your product? How do you get it out from your warehouse once it has been ordered all over Australia?' The answer was, `Very simply: we use Australia Post. It is the most efficient, cheapest system there is. Every month, every week, every day, we put it in express packs and packages. The post office comes and picks it up here as part of its customer service and delivers it to post offices all over Australia where our salespeople pick it up.' It is guaranteed delivery that meets customer need. The company said, `It's the best system going. It is cheaper and more competitive than any other.'

  I know that does not fit with the image of honourable senators opposite about Australia Post but this is an Australian firm servicing hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of clients right across Australia. Its whole system, its whole success, is based on the post office being able to deliver its product on time.

  More recently, I visited a small Victorian aerobics-wear manufacturer on Phillip Island. That company sells direct to aerobics instructors in gymnasiums all around Australia. I said to the manager, `How do you deliver the product?' He replied, `It is very simple. We deliver it all, within two days of orders being received, through the Australia Post express post system. We never have a problem. It is the best system going.' I asked the manager how he got on to that and he said, `Initially, I would go down to the post office on Phillip Island, go up to the counter with a bundle of packages and pay the money. The packages would then be delivered. The postmaster said to me, "This is taking up too much time. Let us work out a system. We can come in and pick it up from your factory and we will deliver the packages".' So this company can deliver its products to practically everywhere in Australia within two days. The manager went on to tell me that his company is also exporting to Hong Kong and Singapore, and that through Australia Post he can get his product into Hong Kong and Singapore within three days of receiving an order.

  This organisation is not the organisation of 20 or 50 years ago that Senator Alston may be thinking about. This organisation has changed its culture and it is delivering for Australian business. I do not think those opposite ought to be getting up in here and bagging it, as Senator Alston has been, without examining the facts.

  I was unaware of the success of Australia Post in this area, but I am delighted to be able to give the example here in the Senate to put down this attack on what Senator Tierney calls `the last dinosaur'. I say to Senator Tierney—

Senator Tierney —Why don't you implement the Industry Commission report? You have your own Industry Commission report.

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Tierney is the last dinosaur. He and his party members are the last dinosaurs. Australia Post is not the last dinosaur. It is delivering to Australian business. Senator Tierney does not know what he is talking about. He is talking about the 18th century or the 19th century and something called penny post. That is where he is with his notions about the service provided by Australia Post.

  We in government are happy with this package. It is a good compromise between meeting community service obligations and providing a competitive basis for business. The opposition would rip all of that up and not tell us how it would pay for the community service obligation. Would the opposition fund that community service obligation out of general revenue? Would the opposition front up to the Treasurer and say, `Give us an extra $100 million a year to subsidise the private operators to meet the community service obligation for rural Australia'—which it claims to represent?

  The opposition has not answered any of those questions. Until it does, it has no credibility to speak on the future of Australia Post. I understand that there is an amendment to be moved and that this bill may be referred to a committee. If it does go to a committee, I hope the committee has a chance to hear evidence from people such as I have just described, who are very pleased with the service they get from Australia Post.

  I table a supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 1.40 to 2.00 p.m.