Small Business Ombudsman Bruce Billson has welcomed a commitment by Australia Post to permanently reverse an earlier decision to stop delivering certain perishable goods around the country.
Small businesses were left shocked and disappointed in April when Australia Post said it would cease delivery of perishables like truffles, butter, cheese and meats by July, at a time when many small food producers had been forced to move their businesses online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The postal network said the decision was due to “the complex food safety and regulatory requirements” of different states; however, following an immediate backlash from the SME community and intervention from Billson, Australia Post walked back from the decision and said it would instead work with Billson to support small business producers.
Australia Post subsequently appointed Billson as co-chair of an industry working forum to address the cross-state regulatory issues involved with moving perishable goods around the country via the Australia Post delivery network.
On Tuesday, Australia Post said its review has now been completed and it is making a “long-term commitment” to delivering perishable goods across the country to provide certainty to businesses.
“We understand it’s critical for businesses to meet growing consumer demands for home delivered food and groceries, and Australia Post remains fully committed to supporting both our customers and consumers with the ongoing carriage of food through our network”, said Australia Post acting group CEO and managing director Rodney Boys.
“We recognise and apologise for the uncertainty felt by some customers as this review took place. The transportation of food in Australia is complex and highly-regulated and we have moved as quickly as possible to provide a clear promise to our customers that there will be no change to how we support them.”
The commitment was welcomed by Billson, who said perishable goods delivery is a “critical service” for many Australian small and family businesses, especially those in rural and regional areas.
“This announcement will bring sighs of relief and renewed enthusiasm for producers who can continue to build their businesses with a reliable fulfilment partner and delight even more customers into the future,” he added.
“It is pleasing that Australia Post has taken a fresh look and removed any uncertainty about it continuing its partnership with primary and food producers, which has been hugely beneficial to both sides. No one has a stronger interest in ensuring the quality of produce on delivery than the producers.”
Communications minister Paul Fletcher said the federal government heard and acted on the concerns of small businesses that would be affected by Australia Post ceasing delivery of perishable goods —from “cheesemakers in Tasmania, cured meat producers in South Australia, and butter producers in Brisbane”.
The government said Fletcher had asked Australia Post to “work with affected customers and to support businesses to find alternative arrangements, and to be kept informed of how this work progresses”.
Billson then worked closely with Australia Post, producers and state regulators to work through the food safety issues and help Australia Post reach the “sensible outcome”, said the government.