Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Let's get more on the changes on the horizon for Australia Post. We're joined by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland from Sydney. Good morning, Minister, welcome to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: Australia Post is going to be posting a loss this year, the first since 2015. How long does Australia Post have to save itself?

ROWLAND: I think the options here are to have a good look at the company, consult with consumers, businesses and any Australians who are interested in this great institution, or to do nothing. And for this Government, doing nothing is not an option because Australia Post serves so many communities, particularly in rural and regional Australia where in many cases, it's not only the post office; it's the general store, it's often the only place also providing banking services. So the whole point of this consultation that we're kicking off today is to understand from Australians, and in particular from small businesses and people representing rural and regional Australia, what they need in a modern Australia Post and have a look at the options going forward, but be very upfront about the facts and the challenges Australia Post is facing.

MILLAR: Well, you've set eight weeks for submissions. The quickness of that, the relatively short time frame, no doubt indicates the urgency of the matter. So, I guess going back to that first question, I mean, how long does Australia Post have to get things in order to be able to be viable for the future?

ROWLAND: To be clear, this is a consultation process which, as you say, is running for two months and that will inform Government views on regulations and policies going forward. We want to get this right. We want to make sure that the most important asset of Australia Post – its workforce – is also properly consulted and their needs understood, and also that Australians have the opportunity to have their say on this matter. I want to be clear that no decisions have been made here. This is a genuine consultation process, this is a Government being upfront with the Australian people about the challenges it faces. We want to have a sustainable Australia Post that supports good, well-paying jobs, but also provides those services, especially in our regions, that consumers want and expect.

MILLAR: So, do you anticipate people will be paying more for stamps to have letters delivered? That they won't be getting deliveries every day? That post offices in regional areas might be consolidated more than they already have. Are all those things possibilities?

ROWLAND: No decisions have been made here, but I will make this point: we are very clear upfront in the principles of this consultation that Australia Post will not be privatised, that we do prioritise the needs of rural and regional Australia, and that we want to hear from Australian consumers, businesses and anyone else with an interest in this great institution about what they believe needs to be done going forward.

But let's be clear: the letter volumes are in decline. These are the facts. And some 97 per cent of letters that go out these days are actually sent by businesses and government. And even in those cases, they are becoming increasingly digitised. And we know that for many businesses that is certainly their aim, not only for cost-cutting, but also to meet any environmental obligations. So, when you have Australians receiving on average about two letters a week now, you need to really have a look at where demand is.

And I actually see this very much, as I discussed this with small business representatives and other people interested in this area, as a productivity driver. We know that the parcels business is booming, with some half a billion parcels delivered last year. But this is an unregulated side of Australia Post's business and it's subject to intense competition from major international players who are building, or in the process of having built, their own networks. We want to make sure that Australia Post remains financially sustainable and viable because that means we can have good, well-paying jobs and the needs of Australians are met. And just to also make this point, I think many of your viewers will be surprised to learn that the regulations governing Australia Post today are essentially the same as they were 25 years ago. So that was ten years before the first iPhone came into view as well. It's important that we address this now.

MILLAR: Well, interesting, because that's one of the arguments on another subject, reviewing superannuation. Why shouldn't money saved from reducing the tax concessions go towards making superannuation more equitable for women?

ROWLAND: Well, firstly, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, as he pointed out last week in announcing a review and defining the objectives of superannuation, made it very clear that one of our key goals here is to ensure that the superannuation system is more equitable towards women–

MILLAR: – But not until it is, not until it's back in balance and that's not going to happen for years. So why should women have to wait again to see equitable systems?

ROWLAND: This is not an issue that arose overnight, nor will it be solved overnight. But this Government remains steadfast in its resolve to ensure that women – and unfortunately older women in particular, now face some of the highest levels of vulnerability, including homelessness – are supported. Nothing has been done for the last decade in this area. We are determined to do something about it. The modest changes that we have announced in recent days goes towards budget repair, but also we are acutely aware of the inequities that exist in the system for women. We are very much alive to the need to do something about this and we are certainly working on options in that regard.

MILLAR: Well, the budget won't be in balance. The forward futures suggest for four years, so that's pushing it down the track. The Greens are going to introduce amendments to this Bill, or they're certainly flagging it to increase the paid parental leave to 26 weeks to get that moving quicker and then to have that superannuation being paid on the parental leave. The government's going to have to face this if the Greens are going to put this amendment forward. As a female Minister in this government, would you like to see that equitable baseline being brought forward more quickly?

ROWLAND: Well, of course, we will engage with anyone right across the Parliament to get our legislative agenda through. This is a Government that is building on the legacy of previous Labor Governments that not only invented superannuation, but have fought to defend it all the way. And it is our clear intention to make sure that this is a system that operates effectively for everyone. We're not going to be able to solve these inequalities overnight, but the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the entire Government is very committed to this.

MILLAR: All right, Michelle Rowland, thank you for joining us this morning, Minister.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.