Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Big decline in Post Office services underway

Email has taken over.  Even so, four days to deliver an ordinary letter is egregious.  We allegedly have overnight delivery in metro areas at present.  These changes will make snail mail even more unpopular.  It's a dance of death they are performing, not a survival bid

Cabinet has approved a proposal by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to introduce a two-tiered pricing scheme for letter deliveries that is expected to see basic stamp prices increase to $1.  The reforms will allow Australia Post to introduce a "regular" and "priority" letters service. Letters sent with a "regular" stamp will arrive an average of two days later than they do currently, with mail within metropolitan areas arriving a day later than the current timetable.

Australia Post was expected to apply to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to increase the cost of a "regular" stamp from 70 cents to $1 when the new regulations come into effect. 

Safeguards will be put in place so that prices remain frozen at current levels for concession card holders, including pensioners. And Christmas cards could still be sent with a 65 cent stamp, Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour said at a press conference in Melbourne on Tuesday.

"These reforms mean we will be able to reduce our losses in the letters business and we will be aiming to get it back to break-even," Mr Fahour said.

"The letters business won't make a profit, and that is not our objective. Our objective is to reduce the losses so that we can support five days a week delivery of mail and secure the future of post offices across the country."

Australia Post would keep about 4400 post offices, including 2500 in regional areas, and at least 10,000 post boxes. It currently has 15,805 post boxes.

About 97 per cent of letters sent in Australia were posted by government or businesses. Mr Fahour said there was no correlation between the cost of sending a letter and mail volumes, rather increased online communication affected mail volumes. 

Australia Post will be able to charge what it likes for a "priority" stamp, which would see a letter delivered on the current timetable. Regular mail would take four days, allowing Australia Post to save money on air freight. Posties would still deliver mail five days a week. 

Priority stamps are expected to cost around $1.50 when they are introduced and prices could rise to $2 in later years.

The reforms are aimed at stemming the bleeding in Australia Post's letters division. Australia Post last week announced a first-half profit of just $98 million - a dive driven by mounting losses of $151 million in its letters business.

A report by the Boston Consulting Group, commissioned by the government, forecast that Australia Post's letters business would lose $12 billion over the next decade. Australia Post management hopes the reforms announced by the government will cut these losses in half to $6 billion.

Mr Fahour also defended his salary of $4.6 million a year - the highest paid public servant in Australia - saying 75 per cent of Australia Post's activity was commercial logistics and it was a "highly successful business".  The latest annual report revealed 409 managers and executives at Australia Post were earning more than $195,000 a year. 

The new regulations do not require changes to legislation but can be disallowed by the Senate.


The Liberals plotting against Tony Abbott are gutless hypocrites

What a bunch of shameless, gutless hypocrites. For three years in opposition, the Liberals hammered their counterparts in the Labor Party for being dysfunctional and poll-driven. For seriously thinking that a change in leadership could wash away a litany of stuff-ups and broken promises. The feud between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd turned the whole government into a running joke, which limped torturously from one punchline to the next.

Now, less than 18 months after assuming power, these same Liberals are preparing to tear down their own Prime Minister without the slightest hint of shame. Can’t they see their own astounding hypocrisy?

Tony Abbott has done some infuriating things. We all get that. Having told us he’d run a government based on trust, without any surprises or excuses, he proceeded to abandon a catalogue of promises.

He’s also done some stupid things. A certain knighthood springs to mind. And it’s become abundantly clear that Mr Abbott has concentrated power in his own office, failing to consult his colleagues.

Obviously, the man needs to improve. More than a few Australians would happily see him undergo a full personality transplant as well. But whatever your opinion of Tony Abbott, the malcontents in his own party who would have him replaced are no better.

Mr Abbott has been thrown a lifeline this morning, with the Coalition clawing back some ground lost to Labor in the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll. However, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull still has a 20-percentage-point lead over Mr Abbott, a statistic that will keep leadership questions alive.

This shows that the instability within the Liberal Party isn’t a noble crusade to rid the country of an inept Prime Minister. If Mr Abbott were ahead in the polls, there would be no leadership gossip. It’s about the hyperactive self-preservation instinct of the average Canberra politician, and nothing more. Whenever electoral defeat looms, the panic sets in.

Now the Liberals are looking to Malcolm Turnbull, the Anointed One in waiting. Why? A huge slice of the party room can’t stand him. An equally sizeable chunk of the Liberal base would only vote for him with its nose firmly pinched.

More importantly, Mr Turnbull hasn’t said he would change the government’s stance on any issue. There’s only one reason for his favouritism to replace Mr Abbott: Polls show that, when non-Liberal voters are included, Mr Turnbull is the preferred Prime Minister. It’s just a popularity contest.

“Oh, hello. No, I wasn’t plotting back here. I was just practising being loyal to the PM.

“Oh, hello. No, I wasn’t plotting back here. I was just practising being loyal to the PM. Yeah. That’s what I was doing.” Source: News Corp Australia

The agitators on Mr Abbott’s backbench, and in his cabinet for that matter, could be pressuring him to change his unpopular policies. Instead, they just want to change the salesman. It’s pointless. It’s pathetic. It’s horribly familiar. And it’s an unbearably hollow rationale for changing the country’s leader.

Mr Abbott has been Prime Minister for half a term. If the Liberals knife him after such a short period, they’ll be sinking to even lower depths than the government they used to mock. This, after explicitly promising to act like adults.

I wouldn’t necessarily regret the end of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership any more than I’d welcome the start of Malcolm Turnbull’s. This isn’t about the leader, it’s about the basic principle that our representatives should spend their days worrying about policy, not poll numbers. That they should protect our jobs, not their own.

So here’s a simple message for any Liberal politician who happens to be plotting away: Enough. Pull your head in, reacquaint yourself with your spine and get back to governing. And while you’re at it, try to do a better job. We’ve put up with this leadership rubbish for far too long.


Australian Customs officials board illegal Patagonian toothfish poaching boat

But do nothing other than look around!

An Illegal fishing boat which had been operating in the Southern Ocean has been located and boarded by Australian Maritime officials.  The Kunlun had been illegally taking Patagonian toothfish from Antarctic waters and is wanted by Interpol.

The New Zealand Navy first found the vessel during a patrol of the ocean six weeks ago.  Then the Sea Shepherd Conservation group chased the ship for a week after finding it in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone near Antarctica.

Australian Customs officials found and intercepted the ship near the Cocos Islands yesterday.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, said the vessel had been monitored for some time.

We certainly applaud the actions of the Australian Government in finally taking action against illegal fishing in the southern ocean and boarding the Kunlun.

The Kunlun is on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) international blacklist of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) vessels.

The New Zealand government said the Kunlun and two other boats had been illegally fishing in the southern ocean for months.

New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, said he was pleased officials had intercepted the Kunlun.  "We are of course delighted to see that the Australian vessels have been able to gain access and add to the evidence," he said.

"We want to put these people out of business and anything that's going to contribute to that process is very welcome."

Sea Shepherd captain Peter Hammarstedt said he wanted to see the boat impounded.  "It is a poaching vessel that was originally intercepted by the New Zealand Navy," he said.

"It was subsequently shut down from fishing by Sea Shepherd and we certainly applaud the actions of the Australian Government in finally taking action against illegal fishing in the southern ocean and boarding the Kunlun."

He said he suspected the vessel was en route from the Antarctic to South East Asia to offload its illegal catch.

Senator Colebeck said it would be illegal for Australian officials to arrest the boat's crew because it was on the high seas.

But Mr Hammarstedt said the ship's crew needed to face justice.  "Australia has every right to arrest this poaching vessel and we now expect to see it brought to the nearest Australian port to see justice done," he said.

The Kunlun is now heading north and Australia will be watching where it goes.  The Kunlun is one of six ships which is believed to engage in IUU fishing for Patagonian toothfish in the southern ocean.


Glencore slashes Australian coal production, jobs on the line

Swiss miner Glencore is set to permanently cut production from its Australian coal mines in a move that could jeopardise close to 100 local jobs.

After closing its mines for three weeks over the Christmas period, Glencore said on Friday it would reduce coal production in Australia by 15 million tonnes in 2015.

That could represent a cut of more than 20 per cent from its total production in Australia.

Glencore produced 60 million tonnes of thermal coal in Australia during 2014, and about 9.5 million tonnes of coking coal during the same year.

In a statement, Glencore said the cuts would "more closely align" its coal output with customer demand levels, and could see some expansion projects slowed.

"We will defer some projects and ensure that inventory management and blending are optimised," the miner said in a statement.

The move comes less than a year after Glencore tried to merge its Australian coal division with Rio Tinto's, and demonstrates the predicament the Australian coal sector finds its self in.

The production cuts could cast doubt on the prospect of expansions at the company's Rollaston and Mt Owen coal mines. Glencore chose not to go ahead with the development of a multi-billion dollar coal mine and rail project at Wandoan in Queensland over a year ago.

In January a Glencore subsidiary in South Africa said it would reduce coal output by 5 million tonnes this year as a result of the market downturn.

Overnight Brazilian miner Vale confirmed that it had impaired the value of its Australian coal mines by 71 per cent during 2014, and said there was little hope of coal prices improving in the near future.

"Looking forward, we expect the coal market to remain oversupplied in 2015. Despite production cutbacks in North America and Australia, which will probably become more effective throughout the year, the decrease in volumes will continue be offset by new supply coming from new expansion projects in Australia and Mozambique," the Brazilian miner said overnight.

"These additional volumes are being supported by lower production costs due to depressed international oil prices and depreciated currencies in producers' countries compared to the US dollar."

Rio Tinto has also announced today it will break up its energy division, with its coal assets forming a new division called "copper and coal".


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