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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1686

Senator ARCHER(10.05) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

Section 85 of the Postal Services Act gives Australia Post a monopoly on the carriage of letters weighing 500 grams or less. Breach of this monopoly carries a fine of $1,000. The consequence of this monopoly is that when Australia Post is unable to provide a service for the carriage of such letters Australians have no legal alternative means of having their letters delivered. This Bill amends section 85 to give the Minister for Communications a power to waive the monopoly provision at such times. An example when this power would have been of benefit to the Australian community was during the recent mail sorters' strike in New South Wales. In this respect, it is worth remembering that 40 per cent of Australia's mail passes through N.S.W. Articles weighing over 500 grams are unaffected by this monopoly and are freely carried by specialist courier services. At times (and particularly during postal disputes) courier services are circumventing the letter momopoly by carrying letters in large cardboard satchels weighing a minimum 500 grams. This questionable practice is inefficient, and is a service available only to the more affluent sections of the community.

The principal reason for the Bill is that a legal monopoly is justifiable only if it enables a cheap and efficient service to be provided to consumers. When Australia Post is unable to provide a reasonably efficient service for whatever reason, there can be no justification for retaining that monopoly and it should be removed. In addition, the waiving of the monopoly to meet such an exigency would:

force the Government and the Minister to be responsible for provision of postal services. At present the Minister is able to avoid responsibility by claiming that Australia Post is a Statutory Authority and should be protected from ``government interference'';

put pressure on the Minister to exercise the powers conferred on him under section 8 (1) of the Postal Services Act to give to the Commission, in writing, such directions as to the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers as appear to be necessary in the public interest;

encourage militant postal workers to seek to resolve industrial disputes by negotiation rather than by strike action;

encourage Australia Post to prevent and settle industrial disputes by forcing it to face loss of business and potential loss of revenue during strikes;

reduce the incidence of breaches of the law by couriers using inefficient and artificial contrivances-breaches to which Australia Post currently turns a blind eye.

The legislation provides that where the Minister, after consultation with the Commission, is satisfied that, by reason of an industrial dispute or for any other reason, the Commission is unable to operate its postal services in such a manner as will meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the Australian people for postal services, whether throughout Australia or in a particular part of Australia, the Minister may suspend the monopoly provision.

During the period of the suspension of the monopoly provision a letter may be carried for reward by persons other than the Commission from a place within Australia for delivery at a place within or outside Australia or from a place outside Australia for delivery within Australia. In the current climate it is clear that this Bill would have widespread support. The business community and editorial writers have indicated support. The Major Mail Users of Australia, representing more than 20 per cent-in excess of $200m-of Australia Post's revenue, is determined the Minister should face up to his responsibilities. It's Chairman, Mr Malcolm Overland, has been seeking to see the Minister and has been told by his office in no uncertain terms that the Minister would see him when he was good and ready. Australia Post management could be concerned that this might be the ``thin end of the wedge'' leading to complete removal of its monopoly provisions and a consequent erosion of its revenue base. This amendment is not likely to have significant revenue implications except in a prolonged dispute.

At the opening of a new Post Office at Wodonga in March this year the Minister, however, acknowledged that ``. . . If service quality in New South Wales continues to fail then growth in demand for Post services will decline as dissatisfied customers go elsewhere. The consequences of such a decline could well be catastrophic for the whole organisation''. Australia's mail services are chaotic, and recent bans and strikes have been causing massive financial and personal hardship to businesses and private individuals around the country. Because it is not faced with competition, Australia Post cannot go broke, and this weak Government will not take action for fear of offending the ACTU. This legislation will enable a responsible Government to ensure that ``the mail gets through'' notwithstanding industrial problems. If that should happen there will be a massive sigh of relief around Australia.

Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.