Australia Post has repeatedly stalled on providing figures it says show a dramatic and ongoing decline in letter volumes, while simultaneously urging Parliament to approve controversial cuts to its letter delivery services.
On Sunday, the federal Opposition accused the firm of attempting to delay the release of the data until after the Parliament votes on temporary cuts to delivery services, which is expected to take place on Monday.
This follows a public statement by Australia Post on Friday calling on “all Members of Parliament” to support the changes, which it said are “essential” to “manage the impacts of COVID-19”.
The figures in question would show the year-on-year change in both unaddressed and addressed letters sent in February, March, and April.
The data “threatens to unravel their original narrative about these changes”, Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said.
“The government is refusing to disclose stand-alone addressed mail declines for April 2020 when the decision was made and announced, and continue to blend unaddressed advertising mail into its figures,” she said.
The total number of addressed and unaddressed number of letters sent fell 10 per cent in February compared to the same month last year, 11 per cent in March, 28 per cent in April and 36 per cent in May.
However, the coronavirus pandemic is not the only factor that could have triggered the dramatic decline in April and May, as May 2019 was a federal election month, which means unusually large volumes of unaddressed letters were sent in the weeks preceding the national poll.
An Australia Post media spokesperson told The New Daily the figures for annual changes in volumes of addressed and unaddressed mail sent in February, March, and April, which The New Daily first requested on Thursday, would be provided by 6pm on Sunday.
The spokesperson then provided an incomplete set of figures covering May only, and not the three months preceding it, including April, when the government’s decision to approve service cuts was made.
The New Daily pointed out that providing figures for only one month as evidence of an ongoing trend is not sufficient, as Australia Post itself stated “it is important to note there is considerable volatility in letters week to week”.
The New Daily again requested the figures for February, March, and April, but the spokesperson doubled down, reiterating that Australia Post was “working through the figures” for the months requested, and refusing to confirm when they would be provided.
“Australia Post advised the unions in late May the business expected an underlying decline in letters going forward of approximately 25 per cent,” the spokesperson said.
What’s all the fuss about letters?
The proposed changes allow Australia Post to halve the frequency of letter and small parcel delivery services in metropolitan areas from daily to every second day, stretch delivery times for intrastate letters from three to five days, and scrap its priority mail service.
The temporary changes were approved by the Morrison government in April, and are due to be reviewed in June 2021.
Both the government and Australia Post have denied claims by unions and Labor that the move will leave pne in four posties out of work.
The firm has argued the changes will allow it to shift its focus to parcel deliveries following a surge in demand due to the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused online retail to “dramatically increase”, and “many Australian consumers and small businesses now rely on Australia Post to get their product to their customers as their main channel of business”, Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate said last week.
“These temporary changes will allow our business to keep pace with the way Australians are currently shopping, doing business and connecting with each other.”
In April, Ms Holgate told Nine newspapers that letters had dropped by 50 per cent some days and unaddressed mail had collapsed by 75 per cent.
“It’s almost like we have had five or 10 years squashed into one month,” Ms Holgate said.
“The amount of decline that we could probably have expected over five years has happened in letters, but in parcels there has also been that massive growth.”
On Friday, federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher rejected claims that Australia Post’s temporary service cuts would result in job losses and reduced rates of pay, accusing Labor of “whipping up a baseless scare campaign”.
“The temporary changes are all putting Australia Post in the best position possible to continue serving the postal needs of all Australians,” Mr Fletcher said.
Finance minister Mathias Cormann said the changes would allow Australia Post to “redeploy its workforce to critical areas experiencing a surge in volume”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified existing trends, with letter volumes declining and parcel volumes jumping,” Mr Cormann said.
“Parcel volumes are up 64 per cent in April year on year and letter volumes down 36 per cent in May year on year.”
Australia Post provided further figures for March and April late on Sunday night, after The New Daily’s story ran.
The figures show that the year-on-year decline in domestic letter volumes in April, the month in which the Morrison government approved temporary cuts to Australia Post’s letter delivery services, was overwhelmingly driven by falls in unaddressed mail, which includes promotional, political, and business materials.
Domestic addressed letters sent in April fell by 15 per cent, while unaddressed letters fell by 54 per cent.
In March, domestic addressed letters fell by 7 per cent and unaddressed letters fell by 22 per cent.
Australia Post first requested the regulatory relief from government on March 31.
The firm did not supply the requested figures for February.