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June 15th 2014 print

Geoffrey Luck

Stamping Out The Postie

Australia Post is in a lot of trouble, with the frequency of letter deliveries likely to be the chief casualty. Blame it on green hectoring and corporate penny-pinching in the first instance, not to mention decades of inept management

postalSo Australia Post (AP) is going broke!  Its Melbourne headquarters will shed 900 administrative jobs, but nobody will notice – which calls for an answer to the question: what were they doing? Chief Executive Ahmed Fahour justifies his $4.8 million salary on the basis that his organisation is not a postal service but a logistics business. That is almost entirely built on the expansion of the parcels trade, which he claims will soon be swamped by the losses of the letter-carriers.

As usual when a service such as Australia Post comes under scrutiny, the bureaucratic response produces lies, excuses and dissimulation. The first furphy is that the the letter-carrier provides a service in delivering parcels. Except for the very smallest, the mailman does not bring the parcel. That is delivered by a contractor who operates in a van from a centralized parcels office (for Sydney’s northern suburbs, in St Leonards), and he leaves a card in the mailbox if you are not at home to receive the parcel and sign for it.

That normally requires going to your local post office – which has been converted into an agency, operated by a harassed over-worked and often unfriendly foreigner whose dream of getting rich in a franchised business faded long ago. She (usually she) is driven mad by the piles of parcels – everything from cartons of wine to baby pushchairs – dumped in her shop every afternoon by the parcels contractor who failed to make personal contact.

Australia Post offices have been cluttered for years with merchandise, from over-priced office stationery to books and children’s games. Their sales have failed to lift profitability. The post offices continue to operate agency services for a variety of government facilities, from pensions to passports. Are the rewards adequate for these quite complex tasks?

Over the years, the Post Office has failed to capitalise on its network to provide realistic commercial services. Thirty years ago I reported from London the launch of the British Post office’s giro banking system, but the idea was too complicated for constricted Australian minds. Giro banking, widely used in Europe, was revolutionary in that it eliminated cheques, then the principal means of payment. Instead, it introduced computer-based paperless transfers between accounts.

It is ironic that today the cheque is dead, and we can make electronic transfers and payments of accounts from our home computers in the same way. It is doubly mystifying that while the Post Office could not introduce a financial transfer/banking system of any type, insurances, credit services and now banking can be offered by a supermarket chain.

Meanwhile, back at the humble mailbox service, nobody wants  to talk about one of the main reasons for the loss of profitability in letter-carrying.  You can blame it on the Green movement, and more recently on the fraud of the CO2 craziness. It is not because people use e-mail and text instead of writing to each other.

Business mail is responsible for at least 90% of all postal letter traffic, and this has declined steeply because of a deliberate corporate strategy of cutting costs. Businesses have worked assiduously to shift the cost of printing their communications material to the home by switching delivery to e-mail.

At first, the campaign made slow progress, but then the environmental movement came to the rescue.  The option to receive a company’s annual report, dividend statement, or the bank’s monthly balance or credit card statement by email was promoted as eco-worthy, as it was said to save trees. Then the climate change scam was applied, making those open to suggestion and coercion feel guilty about the carbon dioxide generated to print their mailings.

No matter that few people would print out a 150-page prospectus, or want it clogging their hard drive when it’s much easier to read the printed version. Now every dividend or distribution payment is accompanied by an intimidatory form, trying to trick you into supplying an email address. The rationale is “so that we can better serve you with instant notifications” but this blandishment should fool no one.  It’s a racket, the cost saving is minimal compared with the corporate waste in so many forms.  The effect on Australia Post could be called unintended consequences, but I prefer to say it’s corporate scum rising to the surface.

And, yes, I refuse to provide my email address to companies, and I continue to demand all communication in print by mail. That’s because it is in my interest to do so – not that of morally superior lobby groups or corporate bean-counters. How much longer it will last, only Australia Post knows.