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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4386

Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. What are the government's plans for the deregulation of Australian postal services? In what time frame are these plans to be implemented? What is the number and the time frame of planned retrenchments from Australia Post? To what extent are these retrenchments being driven by anticipation of the government's deregulation program?

Senator COLLINS —The government has agreed upon a sensible phased package of reforms to introduce further competition to Australia Post. The government expects that these changes will be phased in from the middle of next year. The reforms provide the impetus for further improvements to customer services, greater flexibility, choice of price and service quality while safeguarding the basic letter service. Under the government's decision, Australia Post will be able to continue its current restructuring program to provide postal services at what are acknowledged as world best practice standards.

  The government has decided that some areas will be open to competition, including letters where the charge is greater than $1.80, a reduction in protection from 10 times to four times the standard letter rate; halving the weight limit from 500 to 250 grams; and outgoing international mail and incoming international mail up to the point of lodgment in the Australian postal network to ensure the same treatment for domestic and international mailers. The government has also decided that bulk mailers be allowed to lodge mail at designated mail centres in return for greater discounts.

  Media commentators have speculated about the possibility of 10,000 job losses and a reduction in service standards. I noted just a few days ago the extraordinary statement made by Senator Alston in Sydney that the government should not be worried about the prospect of 10,000 job losses or a loss of $600 million in revenue. These reports are exaggerated and relate to proposals for full deregulation, which were not adopted by the government.

  Australia Post has been implementing changes to its operational structure that have resulted in some 1,000 post office and agency staff taking early retirement and voluntary redundancy packages. A further 3,500 voluntary redundancies are planned over the next four years under the restructuring program. The arrangements for those redundancies have been fully agreed by unions as part of a wider enterprise agreement which was struck in 1992. These redundancies were already in the pipeline.

  It is premature to speculate on possible job losses arising from the government's competitive reforms. In line with these reforms, Australia Post will be able to continue its current restructuring program to provide postal services at world best practice standards. Australia Post has responded positively to the government's decisions already noting that prospective competitors will continue to face vigorous competition from Australia Post.

  As I indicated to honourable senators last week, I am dismayed at the industrial action that has been taken by the communication workers in refusing to deliver mail to members of parliament. I advised the Senate last week that the matter was in the Industrial Relations Commission. I did indicate that my staff in Darwin were fairly delighted about having a post-free week.

Senator Vanstone —What are you going to do about it?

Senator COLLINS —If loud mouth would shut up for a minute, she would find out. Last Thursday the Industrial Relations Commission recommended that all industrial action by the CWU be lifted. The CWU has rejected that recommendation. Australia Post has today sought a relisting of the hearing before the commission. In the meantime I am advised that Australia Post management is engaged in direct discussions with CWU officials to resolve the matter.