Morrison uses Australia Post scandal to push for full privatisation

Photo: Josh Parris / Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s indignation over Australia Post’s (AP) CEO Christine Holgate gifting Cartier watches to senior executives was crafted to deflect the mounting pressure for a federal integrity commission.

His call for Holgate to step aside and for a departmental inquiry into AP management “culture” was also aimed at heading off demands for an independent investigation.

Sure, gifting items valued at almost $20,000 is wrong, especially as AP is super-exploiting its workers during the pandemic, including refusing a wage rise.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) communications national secretary Greg Rayner said the gifting of watches was “not surprising”, but that “is just the tip of the iceberg”. Below the surface, there are greater problems.

“In the middle of a pandemic, Australia Post decided to slow down deliveries right when Australians need the service the most,” Rayner said, adding that the motivations of AP’s executive needed to be scrutinised.

The CEPU wants the government to force the board — comprised of former Liberal politicians and Liberal-connected people — to stand down.

He said that every decision by AP should be about “the safety of the workforce and the quality of services … That’s clearly not on their minds, otherwise they would not be slowing down deliveries and putting incredible pressure on their workers in the middle of a pandemic.”

Australia Post’s “Alternate Day Delivery Model” survey of more than 1000 CEPU members, released on October 22, revealed that workers are engaging in unsafe work practices to try and clear delivery backlogs and postage delays. More than half are not taking their breaks.

Ahead of a Senate estimates hearing into AP, Victorian state secretary of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) Leroy Lazaro said his members believed the new delivery model “made an already difficult situation worse”.

“Morale of our members has never been lower, and stress levels never higher. If the government and Australia Post had engaged in proper consultation … many of these problems could have been avoided,” Lazaro said.

The federal government is keen to deflect the public’s growing frustration with AP’s inadequate service. At the same time, corporate mouthpieces, such as the Australian Financial Review, are urging the government to move on its privatisation plans.

“... [W]ith Australia Post now just one among many e-commerce logistic operators, the case for the government continuing to run a postal service is as weak as the notion that Telstra should still be publicly owned,” the AFR argued on October 26.

“The political storm engulfing its CEO — including suggestions of a union campaign against Ms Holgate’s management and a Liberal Party-stacked board — sends a warning to those in the private sector about the political hazards of working in government.

“It also strengthens the case for Australia Post being rebirthed as a fully private business free to attract and reward its employees as its owners see fit on commercial, not political, grounds.”

While AP has made a tidy profit under the pandemic, especially with its booming parcel delivery service, it has only been possible by super exploiting its workforce.

Expanding its parcel operations over letter deliveries has allowed the corporatised entity to prepare the groundwork to fully privatise this important federal public postal service.

The Howard Coalition government’s privatisation of Telstra, some 20 years ago, should serve as a warning: that led to consumers being ripped off and the disastrous loss of a priceless public telecommunications system.

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