It’s not about the watches …

… is Australia Post a commercial operation or a public service?

That’s the headline for a piece I wrote for The Guardian (my first there in quite a while). A key point is that the deal that allegedly justified the expensive gifts was, in essence, the continuation of an arrangement established a hundred years ago between what was then the Post Office and the publicly owned Commonwealth Bank. Whoever put that arrangement together deserves commendation, but I doubt that they were rewarded by anything more than a promotion adding a few shillings a week to their salary.

The conclusion:

The Australian public has long since seen through the claims made for privatisation, even if the financial and corporate sectors (the real “inner city elites”) continue to push the ideas of competition and choice. Australians want basic services to be delivered cheaply and reliably, by organisations set up to serve the public, rather than to maximise profits.

The statutory authority model, under which most of the infrastructure on which we now rely was built, is the best way to achieve this.

9 thoughts on “It’s not about the watches …

  1. It’s a standard economics argument. There are economies of scope in delivering letters and small parcels and economies of scale in collecting mail from post boxes, sorting this mail, and transporting/delivering it to households and businesses. So Australia Post is a natural monopoly. Hence it should not simply be privatized. Some parts of the business can be exposed to competition – the “parcels” business for example – and this is already happening. But, yes, you need social objectives as well as the pursuit of profits.

  2. The corporatisation of statutory authorities has been and continues to be a multifaceted problem, ranging from confusing terminology (eg government departments are referred to as shareholders) to false competition (price without standardised quality) to search time for users and the adoption of managerial conspicuous consumption from expensive watches to hiring consultants.

    Give them your watch and they tell you the time: Australia Post hires a consultant: https://www.communications.gov.au/sites/default/files/BCG_Postal_Services_Background_Report.pdf?acsf_files_redirect

    In my experience international postal services (letters and parcels) used to work very well between France and Australia and between Germany and Australia in terms of time and standard of handling of parcels at reasonable prices in relation to incomes and without any tracking facilities until corporatisation and competition was introduced, not only in Australia. Now there are tracking facilities and complaint resolution procedures – to keep the customers busy I suppose – and I avoid using such ‘services’.

  3. Ernestine Gross,

    You raise a point which has been a trend for a long time. That trend has been to get customers to do the work for firms and corporations. It began, to my mind, with self-service petrol stations and supermarkets. Petrol stations used to provide attendants to pump the petrol and the old fashioned grocery store had most of the items behind the counters. I can remember the days when the green-grocer, butcher, fishmonger and milkman all delivered food by selling from the truck as they drove round the suburbs. Grocery deliveries are back, from supermarkets, but it takes hours to order them on-line. It would not be possible to design more user-unfriendly web sites if that was one’s sole intention.

  4. I agree with Ernestine. As for the terminology public service management often gets it wrong. In management theory from the 1980s, departments were called STAKEHOLDERS not shareholders. The definition of “shareholder” precludes its use as a synonym for a department. Shareholders are “owners” of the business, paid a dividend in return for this ownership AND “separated” from the day-to-day operation of the “firm”. Government departments fail to meet all three criteria.
    As for the spread of self-service post offices. I was walking the streets of Paris back in 2012 looking for a post office. None were located on any main boulevard near my hotel. Then I saw a Parisian postie. It was about lunch time so I followed him. Sure enough he led me to a back street location. a location like the ones used by old “speak easies” liquor joints during prohibition (according to movies from the USA). I went into this rather small “postal service center” (sorry my French is not good enough to give the actual wording on its frontage). Inside I found vending machines. Being an old Aussie I walked up to the counter. In my bad French I asked for self mailing envelopes. Without a word the person behind the counter directed me to the nearest vending machine. Now my French was really tested.
    Then when I went to London I had a similar experience. Where were all the post offices?. None in Kings Cross as far as I could see by walking every main street. hen I saw a building that looked like an old fashioned post office from all those movies released from Pinewood studios in the 1970s (yes I am that old). So I said an silent “Ah! HA!” (not something you want to yell out in a London street these days). Walking through the swing glass doors, I noticed that everyone was younger than me. I had walked straight into the foyer of a back packer hostel. Silly me.
    Eventually found the Post Office some two kilometers away next to a rail line. Again it was all self service vending machines.
    In Osaka, Japan there are no machines only people more than willing to help a foreigner whose Japanese was none existent. But after getting this great personal service I went to the table to write out my addresses. There on that table was a glue pot. You were expected to glue shut your envelopes. No one licked anything with even the stamps being self adhesive. Japanese style self service?
    Of course in Dublin I walked past the bullet ridden frontage of their GPO, still an old fashioned post office. I got real Irish service. But then as I was leaving one of the bag snatches came up to chat. Luckily for me I was so obviously a very poor backpacker. Not sure if they had already searched my back pack but if so they would have found one water bottle and a towel. I travel light in a foreign city.
    Seriously though, in Australia we cannot point the finger at any other country. I still get personal service but only because the staff are wonderful people. I am sure that, given time, the overpaid management at Australia Post will stamp out any personal service provisions of their charter. My mate in japan calls any mail from Australia “snail mail” because it literally takes longer for the mail item to actually get out of Australia, than it does to get to him once it lands in Japan. Go figure!

  5. With one day to go until the official Queensland State election day, my friends are reporting that they have not yet received the postal voting materials that they applied for. It is not completely clear to what extent this is the result of failings on the part of Australia Post and to what extent it is the result of poor planning by the ECQ. However I do know that between 2015 and earlier this year I was the Returning Officer for an organisation that conducts its internal ballots through a combination of online and postal voting, and over that period I and others involved in running the ballots had to plan the distribution and return of ballot materials taking into account the increasing tardiness of Australia Post deliveries.

  6. My wife and I got our postal ballots okay and had them in the Post Office postbox by Tuesday. Anything to stop the LNP neoliberal society-wreckers from inflicting a runaway COVID-19 pandemic on us all . This, I almost swear, is their express policy based on their pronouncements. Deep down they want a pandemic. They see it as good for business. Clean out the pensioners, create opportunities for vaccine price-gouging and open the immigration and tourism scams again. That’s their plan in a nutshell.

  7. maybe the exploitation of the pandemic was inevitable ,given that exploitation is the name of the “game”,

    but i can’t see how it could be planned for.

    unless, unless OMG!! OMG!!! the conspurrussee!!!! the horrruh!!!!! child chewer and maid muncher? orbitting lizzards? OMG!!!!!!

    Roald Dahl has a lot to answer for, lucky for him he’s dead.

    what really annoys me is negotiating the crap for sale everytime i go to the post office.

  8. It’s odd how much public postal services vary around the world. In Austria and Switzerland, they run rural bus services. In France, rural postmen have been given a social welfare function of checking up on isolated old people (with the support of the venerable Cour des Comptes, “hanging Ministers of Finance since 1314”). But La Poste does not have sub-post-offices in corner shops, as in Britain and Portugal. The USPS does not do postal banking.

  9. i find this whole thing bizarre. so Australia post executives receive around $60m in bonuses over the year but all the debate is over $20,000 with of watches? It seems their big mistake was to not just hand it out in cash instead…. the prime minster wouldn’t have batted an eyelid and we wouldn’t have been subject to the nauseating hypocrisy of the PM pretending to care about excessive executive bonuses.

    meanwhile according to the ABS the labour share of national income is now the lowest since 1963.

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