THE federal government has insisted it has no plans to privatise Australia Post, after a community and political outcry on Monday forced the government to clarify its position.
Debate was sparked after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims urged the sale of remaining government assets to improve national productivity as reported by The Australian Financial Review.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a commitment not to privatise the national post service in a letter to the Communications Workers Union in May last year, and on Monday his spokesperson said the position had not changed.
The government is conducting a scoping study on the potential sale of health insurer Medibank Private, which if sold would leave Australia Post as one of the few remaining assets with the government as sole shareholder.
Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese said earlier in the day the sale of Australia Post would hit regional communities particularly hard.
"Members of the National party and members in regional seats need to state exactly what their view is on this Australia Post privatisation," Mr Albanese said.
"Now, without cross-subsidisation [between parcels and letters in] Australia Post, playing the role that it does, which would be diminished if it were broken up and put into private hands, what we'd see is a real loss in those regional services in particular."
Mr Sims said that he was not singling out the sale of Australia Post, but believed that the private sector ran commercial enterprises more efficiently than the government.
"You boost productivity mainly through improving incentives and you can do that with exposing more sectors of the economy to competition and you can do it through making sure you have the right owners of assets. When the private sector owns assets, that provides better incentives for better performance," Mr Sims said on Monday, adding to comments published in an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review.
"If you're continuing to own them by government, then that's because you have a social objective to pursue. If you have a social objective, then it's worth specifying what that is."
The union responsible for Australia Post workers said it was incensed at suggestions that its workers were insufficiently productive and criticised calls for the national postal service to be privatised.
The Communications Workers Union said there was no fat to cut within the organisation, except from the $4.7 million salary of their chief executive Ahmed Fahour.Blood and tears
"Our members have sweated blood and tears over the past 20-odd years since corporatisation to deliver huge productivity gains," union assistant national secretary Martin O'Nea said.
"I know the affection which is out there for our members who are posties, who are out there rain, hail and shine, whether it is 45 degree heat or blizzards, getting the mail out in a timely and productive manner."
Australia Post workers recently signed a new three-year workplace agreement that delivers a 1.5 per cent pay rise this year and 3 per cent in each of the following two years.
Mr O'Nea said it was the fourth year in a row that his union's members had received a real pay cut.
The industry body representing business owners in the postal sector on Monday also voiced its concerns over any sale.
"Australia poses unique challenges when it comes to delivering postal services in its sparsely-populated rural and remote areas," Post Office Agents Association Ltd chief executive Ian Kerr said.