Billionaire MP Clive Palmer says the Abbott government is secretly plotting to privatise Australia Post to pay back party mates and cuts services to the bush.
Mr Palmer said he considered any plan to privatise the $4 billion mail service as shortsighted and wrong. "We are seeing here an organisation trying to increase its bottom-line before it privatises," his spokeman said. "The Liberal government will push for privatisation to pay back Liberal Party powerbrokers who run lobbyist firms to get in on the act of selling and making huge commissions."
Australia Post announced on Wednesday that it planned to increase the price of a standard postage stamp from 60¢ to 70¢. It has headed off a public backlash by freezing the price for 5.7 million concession holders to 60¢ until 2017. The price rise is a response to the decline in "snail mail" which has fallen by 1 billion over the last five years and now makes a loss of $218 million. Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour warns that mail volumes could fall another 2 billion over the next four years.
The imminent demise of the letter has sparked debate of whether Australia Post's remaining services could be privatised or delivery services and regional offices shut. "The government is not going to keep something going if it is not making any money, so it puts enormous pressure on, but if you don't have a post office you don't have a town," independent MP Bob Katter told The Australian Financial Review. "We still have to get documents with signatures on them and Christmas cards need to be sent," he said. Mr Katter wants Australia Post to move into banking services.
Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull admitted on Wednesday that privatising the business was "fraught with enormous difficulty" and Australia Post "first" needed to get its business model right. Mr Fahour's first priority is to take over suite of existing government servies such as processing drivers licences, Centrelink activities, births, deaths and marriage certificates, and elements of tax adminstration.
Opposition spokesman for communications Jason Clare said he strongly backed an expanded operation. "It is a trusted brand that could offer a wide variety of services through the national network of post offices," he said.
But the Greens, unions and industry groups are preparing to block any sale or reduction in mail services. "It is really a solution in search of a problem, the business is continuing to deliver a dividend for the government. The decline in letter volumes is being used as a red herring for a ideological campaign to privatise," WA Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.
The union responsible for postal workers is furious that Mr Fahour is undermining confidence. "It's a bit like the head of a newspaper pushing the idea that the hard copy newspaper is dead, it is counter productive to his own business," the assistant national secretary of CWU Martin O'Nea said. "[Mr] Fahour likes to create this constant sense of crisis to justify his own agenda."