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Monday, 2 December 2013
Page: 1338

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (13:11): I stand today to raise a few issues. I want to make a few comments about how this issue will affect my electorate of Bendigo. Right now, unlike the doom and gloom that we quite often hear in this chamber about other areas, Bendigo, which is in central Victoria, is booming. We have economic growth. It is a vibrant region with a proud history and an exciting future. However, this growth will be under threat if we continue to lose core services. I put Australia Post in the category of core services.

Changes to the current next-day delivery regime will see businesses and households in the Bendigo electorate get a lesser service—a second-rate service—than their city counterparts get from Australia Post. This will also result in job losses. It is fair to say that Australia Post is planning to cut jobs. In fact, in Bendigo they have put out a call for expressions of interest for 10 voluntary redundancies. It is on the cards that these jobs will be lost. Job losses affect the whole community. I strongly believe that we need to share our public sector jobs across the community, including regional Australia. These public sector jobs bring with them public sector wages. That is really important in any economy, just like in Canberra and in Melbourne. If you are going to have public services, the regions should get their fair share of those jobs. Those people can then spend their wages in businesses in the local community. They can share the wealth among different parts of the country.

Apart from the job losses and what they will do to the families concerned and to the community, I am also concerned about the second-rate postal service that the electorate of Bendigo will receive. This is not just about job losses. It is also about people in the country having a lesser service than those in the city. We have to note that the next-day delivery service has been available since 1977, so there is an expectation that it will continue. It is true to say that our standard is that Australia Post will deliver 94 per cent of domestic letters on time. But currently Australia Post is struggling to meet that standard in my electorate. Just like in Geelong and in Ballarat, trials have been done in Bendigo. My office and the Communication Workers Union sent 100 letters back and forth and we struggled to reach the 94 per cent benchmark that has been set by the government for Australia Post.

If services get worse, it will make it hard for local businesses. I want to quote a couple of comments from local businesses in Bendigo. Bendigo Business Council Executive Officer Patrick Falconer said that companies who rely on same day or next day delivery may need to seek alternatives like couriers. That is going to increase the cost of doing business in the regions. We talk about wanting to see our regions grow, yet we keep changing the service delivery and making it harder for them to do business.

Bendigo Community Telco works with suppliers in Melbourne and Sydney and quite often needs paperwork and materials sent back and forth. Delays make it harder for them to do business. If Melbourne gets next day delivery then so should Bendigo. If Sydney gets next day delivery then so should other major regional cities around the country. In this place we talk a lot about productivity and how to improve productivity for businesses, but cutting back regional postal services will only lead to a decrease in productivity. If we are serious about productivity in the regions then we have to be serious about the services that we have.

The final point I really want to focus on today is regional disadvantage. For businesses to grow in rural and regional Australia we need to make sure that there are no disincentives to doing business. Perhaps we need to start talking about fair and equitable access to services and infrastructure for all Australians. Perhaps we need to start talking to Australia Post about a subsidised model for regional postal services. What I like so much about the NBN is the fact that there is a wholesale price so that people in business in regional Australia wanting access to broadband pay the same price as those in the city wanting access to broadband. Perhaps we need to start looking with Australia Post how we can subsidise regional services.

We should remember that Australia Post is 100 per cent owned by Australian taxpayers. It is our business that we own. One-third of taxpayers live in regional Australia. Do they not deserve the same postal service as taxpayers who live in the city? (Time expired)