Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Michelle Rowland, welcome back to the program. Now, the main reason for the changes that you're announcing today was, of course the 200 million dollar loss reported by Australia Post last financial year. Under these changes, though, when do you expect the company to return to profitability?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: These regulatory changes will go some way towards addressing that decline. But more importantly, this is about setting Australia Post up for the future to be financially sustainable and to continue to provide the services that Australians rely on, particularly in rural and regional areas.
Doing nothing is not an option here. We know that over the years, the structure of the market has fundamentally changed with the entry of multinational competitors who have indeed altered the way in which parcels, business and e-commerce is conducted. And at the same time, Australia Post continues to have obligations that are very important to the community, but also the unstoppable decline of letters as part of that needs to be addressed. What we are announcing today with these regulatory changes reflects those changes in consumer and business attitudes overall.

JENNETT: Now, you mentioned those obligations, community service obligations, they're called. Now, they were last costed at $350,000,000. Is there a revised figure? I assume it comes down by virtue of these changes.

ROWLAND: We will be looking at that and quantifying that as part of the consultation that we have on these regulations when they are released next year. But the important point here is that the unstoppable decline of letters, the increase in demand for parcels and the need to continuing to service rural and regional areas in particular, remains the focus for Australia Post. Doing nothing here is not an option.

JENNETT: How much of a change is this in the lived experience of the resident anyway? I noticed in the last annual report, often using the word average, but delivery frequency per delivery point metropolitan every second business day 98%. So, is it the case that many were currently only receiving letters every second day anyway?

ROWLAND: Well, to be clear, the average household is receiving about two letters per week, despite the fact that the postie will go past a person's house just about every day on their rounds. And herein lies what is so important about these changes. In conjunction with the workers of Australia Post and Australia Post management, a new delivery model has been devised which enables parcels to be delivered every day and letters to be delivered every second day. Express post and the priority mail service will continue to be delivered every day. But again, this recognises the changes in consumer preferences, the fact that people value knowing where their parcels are, if they are either a business or a customer, and the need for Australia Post to reflect those changes. This is a fundamental shift in the way deliveries are done, but it also reflects the changes that people expect to see and also enable Australia Post to have a more productive workforce and to set it up better financially for the future.

JENNETT: Sure, that's understandable. Parcels are obviously more profitable, they're also bulkier in nature. I'm curious whether this means we're less likely to see posties in the traditional mode on bikes and trikes and more likely to see them doing those rounds in larger vehicles from now on.

ROWLAND: Well, to the contrary. As the head of the Communication Workers Union explained to us just a minute ago, you will continue to see posties every day doing their rounds. And the parcels that they will be carrying will be smaller size packets, but indeed, they'll be ones that they'll be able to take on those delivery rounds with a reserve delivery bag, as well that they pick up from a locker at the side of the road. These are all parts of the new delivery model that have been trialled and will be rolled out nationally.

We know that posties have indeed embraced this. I've been to some of these delivery centres, including here in Nepean in Western Sydney, and the feedback from posties is overwhelmingly positive. They are able to do more, they're able to service their residents. And I think that all Australians appreciate the role that posties play, particularly in some of those smaller communities where they do much more than just deliver.

JENNETT: I'm certain that that is appreciated. I think I've heard earlier today, Michelle Rowland, these changes in frequency of delivery, of letters in particular, described as tranche, one of the Auspost overhaul. What's left?

ROWLAND: I think it's important to recognise Australia Post needs to continue to adapt. We want to make sure that whatever Australia Post does, it's about looking to the future. That includes investing in the kinds of services and consumer-facing components that people expect out of a modern postal service. Around the world, government-sponsored postal agencies are in decline or they are failing. Australia Post is a trusted institution that in many regional areas doesn't only service the postal service, in some cases it's the general store, it's the newsagent and it's the only banking service that's available as well. So, in order to be financially sustainable, changes do need to be made in the long term. And we know that in order to meet those needs of consumers, we need to make sure that Australia Post remains financially sustainable. This isn't a silver bullet in and of itself, but it certainly is a big part of that in taking us out of a decade of stagnation, responding to those changes in the market and delivering what Australians want.

JENNETT: All right, that probably means we can pick up on further changes with you as and when they come through. Michelle, I might also take you to another area of responsibility in your portfolio, since the Parliament is mourning Peta Murphy today. She dedicated so much of the last years of her life to the Social Policy Committee inquiry, which, among its 31 recommendations, you'd be aware, was a phased but total ban on all forms of advertising for online gambling. That was six months ago. Will the Government commit to implementing that?

ROWLAND: Well, firstly, can I say that all of us in the Labor family mourning Peta Murphy's passing. She was an extraordinary colleague who was also an extraordinary woman and someone of incredible intellect and courage. The work that she did in every policy area she applied herself to was outstanding. And that includes in her role conducting this very important inquiry, which made some 31 recommendations. I, along with Minister Amanda Rishworth, primarily in the Social Service portfolio, are working through those changes.

But I can tell you that the one thing Peta stood for in this area of harm reduction and how to best serve Australians was – in fact – change. I have said from the outset that when it comes to online gambling advertising, the status quo is unsustainable. And I also acknowledge Peta’s welcoming of the many reforms that we have managed to achieve as a Government 18 months into our first term when it comes to this area, including the implementation of BetStop, the self-exclusion mechanism which has had some 13,000 people sign up to it. Taking on board, making sure we have classification rules for gambling-like or simulated gambling types in games, which primarily affects children as well. And I hope today that the Senate will pass our bill to ban the use of credit cards for online wagering because people should not be betting with money they don't have. We have been progressing many of these reforms. We will continue as a Government to work through those recommendations and we will do this expeditiously, not leave it sitting on a shelf like the previous Government did when it came to classifications reform, and also the banning of credit cards. But Peta Murphy stood for change.

JENNETT: Okay, so just finally, on the complete ban, phased though it was, in the recommendations of that report, saying it won't sit on the shelf. It has been six months, though. How far off until that is addressed in one way or another?

ROWLAND: We are working through this as expeditiously as possible. It is going through the normal processes of Government, but as soon as we have more to announce on this, we will do so without delay.

JENNETT: Would you pick up the recommendation from Tim Costello – longtime campaigner in this area – that it be called the Peta Murphy Bill?

ROWLAND: Again, I want to stress that Peta Murphy achieved a lot in this area in terms of good public policy development. Today, the Parliament will be mourning her passing and I think that we should reflect on that in the first instance again as we work through these very important public policy elements that she championed so strongly.

JENNETT: No, fair enough. And I know you want to get to Canberra almost immediately to participate in that. Michelle Rowland, for that reason, and many others, will farewell you. And thank you, not only for today, but for your ongoing involvement with the program throughout the year.

ROWLAND: Thank you.