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Adjournment, Australia Post’s delivery of Ocean Grove Post Office under cloud, 30 November 2020

I rise to raise some serious concerns about the corporate culture which exists in some parts of Australia Post.

I had a good dose of this not long after being elected the member for Corangamite, when I rallied against a proposal by Australia Post to cut regional mail deliveries in a manner which would have placed the organisation in breach of its performance standards under its community service obligations. There was a subsequent meeting, convened in Canberra, between coalition members and senators, the then managing director, Mr Fahour, and some of his senior executives. After the formal part of the meeting, I had a private conversation with Mr Fahour. He told me that when I raised these concerns on the floor of the parliament I looked like a horse’s arse. I do excuse the language, but that’s what he said.

Trying to keep my sense of humour, I replied that I thought that I looked like an effective member of parliament standing up for my electorate. When I mentioned this exchange somewhat casually to a newspaper reporter in 2017 as an example of the rough and tumble which women sometimes endure in politics, Australia Post denied this conversation ever happened. A spokeswoman for Mr Fahour rejected the claims, indicating there were witnesses at the meeting and that they were able to support his position. The fact is that there were no witnesses; there was no-one apart from myself and Mr Fahour involved in this conversation and no-one was standing within earshot. What worried me about Australia Post’s response was the fact that it was not willing to tell the truth about what had transpired and that the truth did not matter.

I did not let this go, and eventually I met with the now former managing director Christine Holgate, who apologised in person but who declined to put that apology in writing. I tell this story because I believe that in any corporation it’s not okay to lie, to mislead or to deceive. But, once again, this type of conduct has occurred, and I’m calling it out because enough is enough.

For the past four years I have worked tirelessly in advocating for a new post office for Ocean Grove. From 2016 I supported an Ocean Grove business run by Cameron and Heather Waring, who were seeking to establish a licensed post office in the Ocean Grove Marketplace shopping centre in Shell Road. They were experienced post office operators from Point Lonsdale, and yet the Warings were continually told that there was no rationale for a second post office, despite the massive growth in this part of the Bellarine Peninsula. I have to say that Australia Post fudged the numbers to argue its case, arguing that the number of post offices per head of population across the region was more than sufficient. Of course, they averaged out the numbers and took into account that a number of towns, such as Point Lonsdale, Queenscliff and Barwon Heads had much smaller populations and all had their own post offices.

Earlier this year, after moving to the Kingston Village shopping centre, which is in the northern part of Ocean Grove, Mr Waring again asked me to take up his case. I convened a meeting with Australia Post and, much to our delight, John Cox, who is the Executive General Manager of Transformation and Enablement, and Mr David McNamara, who is the General Manager, Post Office Network, informed us that Australia Post had decided to place a community licensed post office at the Kingston Village Square shopping centre. They made it clear that the community licence would be subject to an EOI—an expression of interest—but that the Warings were clearly in the box seat, given that they had a business there, including a Tattslotto agency, at that very centre.

On 10 September, I put out a release saying:

I am delighted to announce that Australia Post will establish a new presence in Ocean Grove and is seeking expressions of interest for a three-year licence to manage a new site at Kingston Village Shopping Centre.

This community licensed post office will improve postal services for the Ocean Grove community …
I have been an advocate for the establishment of a second post office in Ocean Grove for over four years, listening to local voices including Cameron and Heather Waring … understand the importance of reliable and accessible postal services to the community.

The rapidly growing communities in the Kingston and Oakdene estates of Ocean Grove currently lack appropriate and equitable access to postal services and this announcement represents a great win for the Ocean Grove community.
… … …

And I thanked Australia Post for finally listening and for making this very important decision.
In the Corangamite electorate, parcel volumes have increased by over 90 per cent in the months of April, May and June, compared to the same period last year. So the need now is greater than ever before.

Australia Post did publish an expression of interest which did not state that Kingston Village shopping centre was the chosen location. That said, Mr and Mrs Waring relied on the representations by Australia Post that the decision had been made to place the LPO at Kingston Village and had made their submission accordingly. Therefore, there was no requirement to argue as to where the licensed post office should go because that decision had already been made.

Last Friday I learned that Australia Post had reneged on its commitment to locate the post office at Kingston Village and Mr Cox is now denying any recollection of this conversation that he had with us.

What’s even worse is that I had a discussion this morning with the acting managing director of Australia Post, Rodney Boyce, who told me that he was backing his executives’ version of events. He reiterated that Australia Post runs its tenders with a great deal of integrity. I took great issue with what the acting managing director told me, because I knew it was untrue. Both Mr Waring and myself were in that meeting when Australia Post said, ‘This is the decision we have made.’ It goes to the fundamental integrity of Australia Post, it goes to their corporate ethics and it goes to their failure to tell the truth when you see this sort of situation unravel. Australia Post has determined that the tender should go to another group of people who are actually going to operate the business, they say, at the Ocean Grove Marketplace shopping centre. Ironically, this is the same place where Australia Post said, over four years, that there was absolutely no need for an LPO.

I do note the Australia Post advertisement for a new managing director and group chief executive officer. One of the points that they are looking for is a managing director who has a strong commitment to first-class business ethics and best-practice corporate governance. For those who are reading the Hansard or who are listening to this debate tonight, this is one person, one business in one small part of Australia, but it matters a lot. This business run by the Warings is now in peril because the business which has won the tender is now applying for a TattsLotto licence which will further undermine the Warings’s business.

They knew that it was not guaranteed they would get this tender, but they relied on the representations made by Australia Post. It is a breach of Australian Consumer Law to mislead or deceive in trade or commerce, and that’s why I am referring this to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission for investigation. This is not good enough. Australia Post must act with integrity at all times. I’m utterly shocked that they are now denying a conversation that occurred. Australia Post has not told the truth, and I will continue to hold them to account over this disgraceful behaviour.

30 November 2020

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