Peter Strong: Australia Post has lost its way, and small businesses are the collateral damage

Peter-Strong

COSBOA chief Peter Strong. Source: supplied.

It is not responsible for a fully owned government entity to be using its market power to damage small businesses.

Australia Post was once known simply as a post office and a postal delivery service, but these days the company has become something far removed from its core purpose and, if recent developments are anything to go by, it is continuing to grow into new markets.

In addition to selling books, gadgets, souvenirs, technology, drones, gift cards for big businesses, chocolates, toys and stationery, Australia Post has developed partnerships with overseas competitors of Australian small businesses and Australian communities, such as Amazon.

In essence, Australia Post is a government business enterprise (GBE) using its special and protected status to take business from other SMEs.

It even offers personal finance products, such as car and travel insurance, as well as currency conversion.

The company also provides a number of digital services outside of its mail and logistics operations. These include employment screening, online payment services, and a digital identity platform.

It appears Australia Post seems to be branching out into everything it can and drifting further away from its core purpose.

Shouldn’t Australia Post be focussing on getting its postal services working well instead of monopolising the products and services of small businesses?

While the use of postal agents, who are small businesses, does provide people in the private sector an opportunity to add value to their own private businesses, the major post offices continue to compete unfairly with the self-employed.

This year it has gotten worse.

This year, Australian small businesses have been battling external circumstances outside of their control during the biggest economic shock in over a century.

Then we find StarTrack, a dominant delivery service wholly owned by Australia Post, deciding this is a good time to further punish small businesses by increasing its prices for businesses by 4.9%.

Currently the Consumer Price Index is less than one percent, but Australia Post just up and increased its price without any real reason.

Small businesses that are forced to rely on slow postal services more than ever due to the pandemic are being hit again while they are already down.

And now, having formed a partnership with Are Media, Australia Post will sell the top 10 most popular magazines in Australia in post offices — and most likely on different or more favourable terms to small businesses such as newsagents.

There are over 3000 newsagents in Australia that Australia Post seems comfortable to make collateral damage when they are vulnerable.

Taking a core identifying product category like magazines from newsagents in the middle of a recession, and particularly in a pandemic when there are a range of other limitations in their businesses, is not only unprincipled, but personally distressing for the individuals involved.

Australia Post has a unique competitive advantage that other small business cannot compete with. It receives all kinds of benefits, such as retail price maintenance on stamps and limited liability on damaged parcels, while small businesses like newsagents operate in a more competitive environment.

Furthermore, Australia Post may not be complying with Section 16 (2) of the Australian Postal Corporation Act in relation to selling magazines and other products.

It is convenient for Australia Post to play the free market card on one hand, when it wants to take from small business, but not when it comes to putting up its prices (as a monopoly) with basically no competition due to its market dominance — and this is while being supported by taxpayers.

The optics of a large government owned corporation seeking to take advantage over thousands of struggling small retailers in a pandemic-induced recession is extraordinary. This is unfair practice.

What will come next? Will Australia Post provide flowers in competition with florists? Coffee and snacks in competition with coffee shops? Clothing? Hardware? Airline tickets? All being sold from big post offices where there is the physical space to do so.

Will the main streets around Australia eventually consist of one shop — the government owned post office – selling everything? That would kill community, choice and jobs.

In our opinion, Australia Post should stick to postal issues and leave the rest to the private sector

This issue needs to be addressed before it’s too late. In fact, in this post-COVID era, the big end of town needs to be more careful and socially responsible.

Small business has to be allowed to recover and while we all need to innovate, the country needs big business to show leadership. This starts with Australia Post.

It is un-Australian for Australia Post to use its competitive advantage as a protected government business enterprise, with a model that lacks competitive neutrality, to target vulnerable small businesses.

And as the owner and sole shareholder, the government should make a clear statement to Australia Post that it must not pursue strategies that damage small businesses.

This article was first published on the COSBOA website.

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BJG
BJG
10 days ago

Focusing on its postal service would be good. We now pay more for less service – it makes no sense! I recently had a small package delivered from overseas. It was shipped within a day and (according to the tracking information) arrived in Australia about one week later. I finally received it 2 months later?? This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I remember a time when we could post a letter and expect it to be delivered to another capital city address within a day or two – now we just live in hope that they will receive it!