Australia Post shop front at Melbourne University

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By Erin Handley.

First published Friday 9 November 2012 in Farrago.

The Melbourne University post office will close up shop today, like every Friday afternoon, but this week it may be for the last time. The post office needs to relocate due to the demolition of the Architecture building—but in a controversial decision by Australia Post, the post office will be closed permanently and will not be re-established elsewhere on campus.

The decision comes as a shock, as the post office services 30,000 staff and students. The Melbourne University post office was the 6th most profitable out of 190 post offices in Victoria and Tasmania in July this year, according to Shirley Winton, organizer from the Victorian branch of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

But Sarah Gordon, spokesperson for Australia Post, said that this figure on the profitability of the post office was “incorrect and misleading,” although she did not cite an alternative figure.

Australia Post “are seeing year on year declining customer numbers,” Ms Gordon explained. Many services including letters, bill payments and banking “are impacted by digital substitution,” she said.

“With this trend continuing it is not sustainable to continue to provide our services in the current format,” Ms Gordon said.

John DuBois, director of Communications at Melbourne University, confirmed that “several sites were considered around the campus” for the relocation of the post office, but ultimately, the closure “was a business decision for Australia Post”.

As outlined in their own policy, Australia Post is obliged to balance its commercial obligations with its obligations to community service.

Australia Post intends to meet this obligation by replacing the post office with a Community Postal Agency (CPA). The CPA will operate as part of the Uni Store in the basement of Union House, and will offer some postal services, such as stamps and packaging products. Australia Post will also provide a new 24/7 postal outlet at Building 161, Monash Road. According to Australia Post, this outlet “will house post office boxes, a postal vending machine and 24/7 smart parcel lockers” but not the full range of services that the current post office provides.

The dramatic reduction of the services on offer is expected to negatively impact the Melbourne University community, as many staff and students use the post office on a regular basis.

The postal services that will no longer be provided at Melbourne University, or will be limited in their availability, include weighing and assessing articles for domestic and overseas postage, bill pay, banking and EFTPOS transactions, passport photos, purchase of foreign currency, issuing and paying money orders, mobile recharge, and stationary.

The CPA will be unable to lodge 100 point ID verification, Working With Children Check applications, Work Safe applications, or passport applications.

Other limited or discontinued services will include acceptance of mail redirection and PO Box applications, fax services, money orders, and the purchase and lodgement of parcel post, plus registered, express and courier products and services to domestic and international locations.

Joan Doyle, Secretary of the Victorian branch of the CWU, described the diminished service as “bloody useless, really”.

Ms Doyle also confirmed that Australia Post staff and the Melbourne University community did not receive consultation in regards to the closure. This is a breach of the Australia Post’s Community Postal Agency Agreement, which states that the closure of an outlet requires community participation and consultation, and that this consultation process should take place at least six weeks prior to implementing the change.

“They’ve quite deliberately left things until the last minute so that we couldn’t find a solution,” Ms Doyle said.

The breach prompted the Communication Workers Union to lodge a dispute with Fair Work Australia, heard last week on 1 November. Ms Doyle said the outcome of the dispute was that “the commissioner asked Australia Post to provide us with more information, which we’ve got.”

Ms Doyle suggested that “Australia Post have really not acted in good faith with this at all,” as “the local postal manager wasn’t consulted on any of this—they put out a letter under his name and he never even saw the letter.”

There are also concerns for the staff at the Melbourne university post office. “The current staff want to stay where they are,” Ms Doyle said. “They don’t want to be relocated to other places and they’re very attached to their customers.”

One member of the post office staff, who has been working at the Melbourne Uni outlet for a number of years, said that there wasn’t much to say about the closure, and that they were as surprised as the rest of the university community by Australia Post’s decision.

Australia Post believes that “the Parkville area is well serviced with a number of post offices within less than one kilometre radius.” However, Ms Winton of the CWU said “when you’re looking at a community of 30,000, it’s not really satisfactory.”

“Our understanding is that they don’t want to spend any of those profits made at the Melbourne University Post Shop on the refurbishment—refurbishing a new retails centre,” Ms Winton added.

This is not the first time that the post office at Melbourne University has faced closure.

“Two years ago, Australia Post tried to close down the retail shop, but with the intervention of staff and students and the university administration—and Adam Bandt from the local Greens—that was stopped,” Ms Winton said.

The CWU and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) are urging Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis to keep the post office open until mid-December to allow time for all the parties to find an alternative solution. Ted Clark, Melbourne University NTEU Branch Secretary, said that he had received confirmation that the Vice Chancellor was looking into the situation.


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