Post Office privatisation could hurt small towns

THE potential privatisation of Australia Post could have a negative effect on rural communities. 

This week Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, was reported to be urging the Federal Government to consider selling off Commonwealth-owned assets such as Australia Post and Medibank Private.

The peak body for licenced post offices in Australia, the Post Office Agents Association Limited (POAAL), has come out against the proposal in a statement, noting ”Australians living in rural Australia would also be disadvantaged if Australia Post were to be privatised”.

POAAL based its statements on the assumption a private operator would consolidate services in a larger town and rural post offices would close. 

Sandra and Andrew Judge of Bemboka Post Office said rural post offices are essential to the wellbeing of small towns. 

“In Bemboka, the town would be lost without its post office,” Mr Judge said.

It's not just about mail delivery for the Judges, who took over Bemboka Post Office as licensees 10 years ago.

“There are so many other things people in a town like Bemboka use the post office for,” Ms Judge said. 

People not only pick up mail and parcels, pay bills, transfer money and buy gifts at Bemboka Post Office, they check the community notice board, touch base with other residents and get advice.

“We have so many older members of the community who still do their banking with the post office, they don’t drive so they can’t get into Bega,” Ms Judge said. 

“We had a gentleman who wanted to see if he could surprise his wife with a letter from the Queen and one from the Prime Minister to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

“He had no idea what to do - actually I didn’t either!

“But I researched it for him, wrote to our member of parliament and got the wheels in motion and they got those letters just before their anniversary. 

“You go into a big town post office, there’s a queue and they don’t have the time for that sort of thing,” she said. 

Therese Buckley of Candelo Post Office recently sold the business and no trouble finding a buyer. 

"Small town post offices provide so much beyond mail delivery, they are thriving in fact," she said. 

"We offer personalised service, we get to know people.

"There is no mail delivery, people either come in and collect it from the counter, or have a post box.

"Many people here can't travel the 30km to Merimbula or Bega so they rely on us."

In Bemboka, the Judges have also become unlikely scam busters

“We’ve had people come in and say, ‘I’ve just had a phone call from the tax office who say they owe me money, but I have to send them money and my bank details first’. 

“Or, ‘How do I wire some money to a person who sent me this email?’ 

“Without a post office, the isolation of many people in a small town would be compounded.”

While villages like Bemboka and Candelo are still a drivable distance to a main regional centre like Bega, in areas of Australia away from the populated East Coast people could face return trips of several hours to pick up mail should their local post office cease to operate.  

“Australia poses unique challenges when it comes to delivering postal services in its sparsely populated rural and remote areas,” a POAAL spokesperson said. 

“Prior to the 2013 federal election, POAAL sought and received assurances from all major parties that they had no plans to privatise Australia Post. 

“A privatised postal operator would focus on the main population centres at the expense of customers in rural Australia.”

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