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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2906

Mr HOLLIS(6.00) —I regret that the Opposition feels it necessary to move amendments to the Postal and Telecommunications Amendment Bill; nevertheless we will deal with those amendments. The Australian Labor Party has always recognised the importance of an adequate postal service. With this in mind, the Party's platform as it relates to postal services contains commitments to:

The development of an efficient postal system on the basis of a publicly owned national utility with exclusive rights to carry letters for reward.

The postal system to be available to Australians who reasonably require the service.

Electronic mail to be handled by Australia Post;

Australia Post to be empowered to competitively market a variety of services including high-speed and door-to-door pick up and delivery services.

The Postal and Telecommunications Amendment Bill gives effect to these commitments. In short, this Bill will bring Australia up to date with modern postal services.

Mr O'Keefe —About time.

Mr HOLLIS —The honourable member should look at what his Government did to Australian postal services. We would never have had an up to date postal service if the previous Government had remained in office; that is for sure. In the main , Australia has a good postal service. Of course, people are always ready to criticise when one article goes astray for some reason or other, but given the diversity of roles it performs, I think our postal service is a good one. Any service is only as good as the people who work in it. I pay a tribute to the men and women of Australia Post who have made the service what it is today. But that is not to say that the service cannot be improved. We must have a postal service that will adequately serve Australia in this technological age.

The major elements of this Bill are those which give power to the Australian Postal Commission to operate courier services and to establish electronic mail services in its own right. Of course, the courier service is not new. Honourable members will recall that until 1980 Australia Post was successfully managing courier services in competition with the private sector, but those who now sit opposite did not like that. We all know their philosophy in regard to the private sector. They let the Government put up the money to commence some new initiative, iron out the problems in the first few years and then, when it proves to be successful and making a profit, they flog it off to their mates.

The razor gang made many short-sighted decisions. I would hesitate to designate which of them was the most short-sighted, but the decision to remove the power of Australia Post to operate couriers must have been amongst the most short- sighted. Of course, the previous Government did not take account of Australia Post's need to provide the full range of postal and related services. The postal courier service had gained a reputation for reliability and efficiency, and it was a key element in a comprehensive postal services. There is a demand for speedy postal services, in particularly those services which provide for priority pick-up and delivery in special circumstances. The postal courier will carry articles weighing up to 20 kilograms. Its operation will be fully costed and there need be no fear of it competing unfairly on price because of internal cost subsidisation.

I welcome the reintroduction of the postal courier service, I am sure many users of Australia Post's services will also welcome its reintroduction. Many postal customers want to use Australia Post for all their business-for their letters and parcels when normal postal services are adequate, and for items for which special transmission arrangements are desired. A comprehensive postal service, incorporating ordinary postal delivery, fast delivery by air or courier , and extra fast handling-for example, by electronic transmission-will facilitate co-ordination of communications and avoid the timing problems which can occur when more than one carrier is involved.

Australia Post will operate competitively in the physical communications market . Australia Post is a business, and as such must be run on acceptable business lines. This means moving with new technology and taking full advantage of technological developments. The power for Australia Post to operate electronic mail services in its own right is necessary to ensure that it can remain at the forefront in providing modern day communications utilising the latest technological developments.

Electronic mail services are simply another modern means of transferring information. In other words, they are a form of postal service using electronic means of transmission rather than transmission by air, land or sea. Australia Post, with its network of post offices and delivery services, will provide this new type of postal service employing the best of modern technology and offering speed and economy so that it is widely available to the public. Australia Post will compete in the market-place for business as electronic transmission becomes a more favoured option for certain types of communications now sent by conventional postal services. The power of Australia Post to enter into agency arrangements must be expanded to cover the private sector.

This measure will enable Australia Post to utilise its national network of post offices to provide supplementary services. This will be of particular benefit to people in country areas. I know this is true because I live in a country area. Australia Post is now authorised to perform agency work for Commonwealth and State departments and authorities. The benefits to the community will be considerable. Australia Post will have one stop shop post offices with a variety of services to offer. Some services which are otherwise unavailable could be provided, say, in small centres, and the greater use of postal facilities will help to contain costs and charges. It will also mean a wider distribution network and provide access to outlets now available only to the public sector.

For Australia Post these measures will mean more revenue, a greater scope for using the unavoidable excess capacity in some post offices, and even-handed treatment for the private and public business sectors. The more obvious avenues for private sector agency work are in printed matter, selling tickets and accepting subscriptions or other moneys at post offices, but there are many other business opportunities, especially in country areas, which would be worth while and beneficial to customers and principals.

Australia Post will maintain its monopoly position, but letters subject to a premium fee will not be subject to this monopoly. Such premium fees are mostly charged by private courier services for the speedy pick-up and delivery of letters. The amendment in the Bill will regularise this situation without putting Australia Post's essential basic monopoly in jeopardy. It has been decided that the minimum premium fee should be 10 times the basic domestic rate, which, as the current rate is 30c, means that a private courier can carry letters for reward, exempt from the Australian Postal Commission's monopoly, if they charge a minimum of $3. Similar provisions have been made for the private sector carriage of letters to overseas destinations.

The Bill also proposes a number of amendments of a technical nature. I was pleased to note that the Opposition will not oppose the lowering of the retirement age for officers of the commission to 55. There is no doubt that the proposals in this Bill will enable Australia Post to continue to provide an adequate service in this technological age. Indeed, the Bill will enable Australia Post to offer new and dynamic services, make more efficient use of its extensive network of post offices, better meet the needs of the public and tap potential new technological developments. I have pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.