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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4387

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (19:30): I wish to raise the issue of the Sorrento Post Office and postal services in Sorrento, Victoria within my electorate of Flinders. There are two concerns that the residents of Sorrento have about the current circumstances of the post office. There is a proposal that the post office be closed down and that it be replaced by a licensed post office. There is also great concern about the heritage status of this building.

To his credit the CEO of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour, spoke with me recently in response to concerns that we had raised on behalf of local constituents. I am pleased to be able to convey not just to the House but in particular to the people of Flinders and the residents of Sorrento that he made a rock-solid guarantee—and I utterly believe this—that the postal services will stay in Sorrento and that the hours will be extended, assuming that an appropriate local provider can be found. There will be a tender process, but the rock-solid guarantee I have from the CEO of Australia Post, who has personally engaged with this issue in response to our representations, is that Sorrento postal services will be not just maintained but extended. Nevertheless, my first preference is that of the majority of people in Sorrento. It is to keep the old post office. But, given that this tender process is underway, I think it is critical to have reassurance that the services will be retained and ideally extended, potentially by as many as 10, 15 or even 20 hours a week, with the potential for Saturday and Sunday services for the first time.

Beyond the question of postal services is the issue of protection of the heritage building. Again, I thank Ahmed Fahour for his commitment that the building is heritage listed and that Australia Post will ensure that it will be used—whether they sell it or whether they lease it—for purposes compatible with that heritage listing. There is, however, one development of extreme concern that has nothing to do with Australia Post. It has everything to do with bad faith by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Tony Burke, I would assert. In recent weeks we have discovered buried away in the minutiae of the minister's departmental website a decision by the minister in May last year to quietly remove some of the post office's heritage protection. It is very curious that the minister quietly sought to remove some of the Sorrento Post Office's heritage protection.

I remind the House what is special about this post office building. It has been in operation since 1905. It is one of the oldest post offices in Australia and I am advised it is the oldest Commonwealth era post office in Victoria still under Commonwealth ownership, control and continuing usage. It is also a beautiful building. So to lose these heritage values would be of deep concern. It is my understanding that, were the building sold, it would automatically lose the remaining Commonwealth heritage list status and therefore it would potentially lose all of its heritage protection.

I call on the minister to undo the damage he has done and to commence the process of listing the Sorrento Post Office on the National Heritage List. If it was good enough for the Commonwealth Heritage List, it should be good enough for the National Heritage List. I will be writing to the minister for the environment and heritage to list the Sorrento Post Office on the National Heritage List. That way we can be assured that, whatever its use, it will be done in a way that is compatible with the great historic capacities and nature of this building. It is deeply disappointing that, in the dark of night under the cover of a back page buried in the internet, the minister has stripped away heritage protection. He should apologise and he should address this damage. (Time expired)