Interview with Paul Culliver, ABC Capricornia Breakfast

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: You may remember last week, a lot of talk was had about the future of Australia Post; how it could continue to operate in a sustainable way, and, big question is, if it doesn't deliver letters every day - and indeed, what other cuts could you see in regional Australia - how would that impact your experience living in Central Queensland? Well, the Federal Communications Minister is Michelle Rowland. Good morning to you, Minister.


CULLIVER: Look, I wanted to start off by asking about Australia Post and I do want to talk about the future of the services here in Central Queensland. However, a couple of weeks ago, there was what appears to have been a postal heist at a North Rockhampton Australia Post facility. Police are alleging a number of people disguised as employees broke in and stole postal items, including a number of parcels. I just wondered what your thoughts are here about security settings for an Australia Post centre and what needs to be done here?

ROWLAND: Paul, it is very distressing and I can understand for your consumers and small businesses who are just trying to do the right thing and service their customers that it's disappointing and alarming. Australia Post is reviewing the security arrangements at the moment. They're trying to identify and contact customers who've been impacted. I'm pleased in the first instance that there was actually no Australia Post people who were injured or on-site at this time. But I know Queensland Police are investigating this and I know that customers have been or will be informed that they are going to be compensated for stolen or damaged packages. If you have any listeners who are impacted by this, they can call 13-POST – 13 76 78 – and see how that is progressing. But it certainly is a timely reminder about the need to ensure security. Police investigations are happening at the moment. It is very disappointing and distressing, but I don't want to draw any conclusions at this stage, but just to reassure your listeners that Australia Post is looking into this very closely and they can certainly contact Australia Post about compensation.

CULLIVER: Yeah, of course. Is this particularly common? Do we see these kinds of attempts on stealing mail around Australia very often?

ROWLAND: It is an offence, but fortunately, it's not one that is particularly common. Now, unfortunately, as many of your listeners will be well aware, the types of theft happening these days –

that is within the remit of my portfolio – is scams. There’s been around $2 billion lost in scams in the last couple of years alone. And just a really timely reminder for your listeners: if you receive a suspicious call, text or email that is trying to elicit your personal details or your bank account, please don't respond and be very alive to these scammers. 

We have new rules in place that are actually blocking something in the vicinity of half a billion scam calls and texts since they came into operation. But these are smart criminals, many of them operating from overseas. Again, I would just urge your listeners to be vigilant on that front. We will indeed investigate and cooperate with Queensland Police in this particular instance about the postal theft.

CULLIVER: And so last week, you released a discussion paper about the future of Australia Post. This year, Australia Post is expected to run at a loss for the first time since 2015. This is after, of course, a boom in parcels, particularly during the pandemic. It would raise concerns in regional Australia about just what level of service will be maintained and indeed mandated. Should regional Australians, should Central Queenslanders, expect that Australia Post is going to withdraw services here?

ROWLAND: Well, Paul, I want to make it very clear for all your listeners that we understand how important Australia Post is. It's a national institution, it's over 200 years strong, and in some parts of regional Australia, it's not just the postal service; it's often the general store, it's the bank, it's the newsagent, and in some cases, it is the only financial service facility in a region.

Providing appropriate coverage of the Australia Post network and supporting those licenced post offices - many of whom are small businesses - to be sustainable is one of the primary principles of this discussion paper. Many listeners might not be aware, Paul, that the current regulatory settings that apply to Australia Post, they actually have been unchanged for the past 25 years, so they're not actually fit for purpose in the digital age. But the whole purpose of this discussion paper is presenting these facts to the Australian public in a very transparent way, giving a good period of time until the end of April to have their say, and exactly as you say, the emphasis needs to be on serving consumers, irrespective of where they live or work, and the regions are such an important part of Australia Post mandate.

I really welcome input from your listeners. You can go to the Department website, have your say there on what you think is most important for Australia Post. Indeed, speaking to quite a few stakeholders just in the last couple of days, Paul, it's very much an emphasis on small business, on how we meet the needs of consumers which have changed in the past 25 years. We want to make sure Australia Post is financially sustainable, that it adapts, that above all else, serves the needs of Australians irrespective of where they live or work, especially in rural and regional Australia.

CULLIVER: Can you guarantee that no Australia Post sites will close in regional Australia?

ROWLAND: Well, to be clear, Australia Post sites open and close as populations change and some of those small businesses decide to no longer operate. New ones emerge in new areas. But we haven't made any decisions here. And indeed, as Australia Post has been very clear, they actually see the future as being in regional Australia. It's where they can expand, it's where they can offer new and more innovative types of services. My key message to your listeners is we want Australia Post to be better in rural and regional Australia, and that means asking the communities what they want. We are focused on those small and micro-businesses in rural and regional Australia who rely on a good partner service to be able to service their customers. We are very much focused on the workforce, it's some 60,000 strong, working very closely with the workforce and their representatives, because we want to ensure people have good, well-paying jobs and that we are able to service the needs of rural and regional Australia as best we can.

CULLIVER: I know we've only got you for a couple more minutes. I just wanted to ask you about the rollout of fibre upgrades in this region.

ROWLAND: We are very pleased that in our first Budget, we've had a $2.2 billion communications package for rural and regional Australia. This is a priority area for the Albanese Government. I'm very pleased to inform your listeners that there's nearly 40,000 premises across the region who are going to be eligible for an upgrade of their NBN, from copper to fibre. And this will be, again, a particular boon for those people who operate small businesses, medium and micro-businesses. 

We know that broadband isn't some add-on or a nice-to-have. It's absolutely essential, especially in rural and regional Australia. So with those some 40,000 premises being eligible for upgrades, I know that many people have been very frustrated with the state of their broadband service so far, so this will be a particular boon. And also for those listeners who are on the satellite or the fixed wireless service, we've had nearly half a billion dollars of investment in fixed wireless service, new and improved service coming online in the satellite services area. So, just to emphasise, this is a key priority of this Government because we want all Australians in rural and regional Australia to be connected.

CULLIVER: Minister, thanks for your time today.

ROWLAND: Absolute pleasure, thank you.