As the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit prepares its war path against public services and public sector workers, Australia Post looks to be squarely in the firing line.
The agenda underlying the Commission of Audit, to lay the ground for cutbacks and privatisation, has never been a secret. The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently stepped up calls for major asset sales, calling for the full $3b privatisation of Australia Post. Medibank Private is already undergoing privatisation.
From media commentary, it would be easy to assume that Australia Post is in the financial doldrums. Yet in the last financial year, it posted a revenue increase of 10.9 per cent.
There may be a declining number of letter deliveries due to the rise of internet communication. But parcel deliveries have increased substantially due to online shopping, by 9 per cent over the past year alone. The manufactured “crisis” of an “inefficient” public sector is part of Abbott’s ideological agenda to justify further attacks on public services while cutting taxes for the rich.
Australia Post’s proposed stamp price increase for letter deliveries from 60c to 70c from 31 March foreshadows the kinds of service cutbacks and price rises to be expected under a privatised, for-profit postal service. In a further sign of service reductions to come, respondents to a recent online survey of Australia Post customers were presented with a “choice” between either an annual $30 fee for mail delivery, or a scaling back of door-to-door deliveries to three days a week.
Privatising Australia Post would severely reduce the accessibility and affordability of postal delivery. Rural and regional towns including remote Aboriginal communities will be hit hardest.
For the regional towns in which 60 per cent of Australia Post’s 4429 outlets operate, post offices provide not only mail delivery services but effectively serve as both the general store and community hub. Post offices handle passport applications, financial services and bill payments. Service reductions resulting from privatisation will inevitably lead to job losses.
Unlike fully commercial businesses, Australia Post retains its commitment towards meeting Community Service Obligations, which mandate the provision of postal services “at a single uniform rate within Australia for standard letters” and “reasonably accessible to all Australians wherever they reside”. Privatisation would create pressure to scrap these obligations.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), representing Australia Post workers has proposed Australia Post use its network of post shops to move into banking as an alternative to privatisation. A “one stop shop” handling both postal and banking services in regional towns without banks could, according to the CWU, compete alongside the big four banks and raise up to $2 billion in revenue. Yet that $2 billion could easily be generated through the restoration of the mining tax, an increase to company tax or a cut to the defence budget.
But unions need to defend public services as a social right. A serious strategy of strikes and demonstrations from the union centred on defending jobs and services would win wide support.
Public opinion remains firmly opposed to the Liberals’ agenda. An overwhelming 80 per cent of Australians support keeping Australia Post in public hands.
By Jimmy Yan