Interview with Peter Ryan, ABC Radio AM
SABRA LANE, HOST: Federal Government's released a discussion paper warning that changes are needed to make Australia Post financially stable. Our senior business correspondent, Peter Ryan, has been speaking with the Federal Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The reality is that Australians are actually posting and also receiving less and less letters, and at the same time we have increasing demand for parcel services, and we've also got increasing international competition. Those types of competitors don't have the obligations that Australia Post does to the community when it comes to other services like letters.
PETER RYAN, HOST: So, is the letter dead or dying and not worth the cost of delivering, given changing consumer demands and attitudes who've gone increasingly digital?
ROWLAND: Letters are certainly still being sent, but the reality is that 97 per cent of them are actually being sent by business and government. But Australia Post has that obligation and as long as people want to send letters, those letters will be delivered.
RYAN: I've seen the discussion paper that even the price of a stamp gets a bit of a mention. Would you like to be the Minister for Communications who bumps up the price of a postage stamp?
ROWLAND: Let's be clear, the approval for postage stamp increases is one that's done through a regulatory process. But I note that as we have a decrease in the number of people actually purchasing stamps, Australia Post makes a submission to the regulator on that basis as well.
RYAN: Does this discussion paper open up the option or the possibility of selling Australia Post off to private interests, which has happened in other countries around the world?
ROWLAND: Absolutely not. And the guiding principles, the very first one, explicitly states that Australia Post will remain in full public ownership.
RYAN: What about the community service obligation to service all parts of Australia, including rural and remote areas, that cost $348 million last financial year. So, is that obligation to the community going to be axed?
ROWLAND: No. Australians do expect that they are going to be able to receive their parcels and their letters within a certain time frame. But of course, parcels are not part of these performance standards, so that's precisely what we want to examine through this consultation process.
RYAN: There are currently 4,300 post offices around the country. How many of them do you think might be closed?
ROWLAND: We're not making any decisions as a result of this discussion paper process, but we do know how important those post offices are in regional Australia. We want to understand how we can make them more viable.
RYAN: Is that the same with the 15,000 red post boxes that Australia Post has around the country? Would they be scaled back?
ROWLAND: Again, no decisions are being made here, but I would point out many of your listeners might or might not remember the last time they actually used one of those street posting boxes as well. And again, that wouldn't be surprising.
RYAN: Australia Post has more than 60,000 workers, but quite a few of them would be from the old Australia Post that you're wanting to modernise. Would some of those workers be made redundant or sacked to make way for the expansion of the more lucrative freight business?
ROWLAND: We're making no decisions and we have been very engaged with the Australia Post workforce and its representatives because that's the only way we can have sustainable jobs and good job opportunities, ones that are relevant to changing consumer needs.
LANE: Communications Minister Michelle Rowland speaking with Peter Ryan.