This bill aims to address an unusual problem, but nonetheless a problem that is an annoyance to a lot of people. You see, politicians—including myself—regularly use Australia Post’s unaddressed mail service to deliver material to their electorates because it is a simple and cost-effective way of getting information out, whether it be to the entire electorate or just particular suburbs. And certainly the vast majority of feedback that I get suggests that most people are happy to receive the material that I send out, whether it is my newsletters; the fridge-magnet calendars that I send out every year; or the postcards that I deliver, inviting people to get in touch with me to tell me what they think.
But, quite reasonably, some people do not want to receive political material in their letterboxes. And here is the problem. Currently, Australia Post specifically require unaddressed political mail to be delivered to every single letterbox because they regard it as a ‘community notice’. So this means that posties are explicitly told to ignore the signs on people’s letterboxes, regardless of what they say. In other words, under the current law, if you do not want political mail in your letterbox, there is literally no way to opt out of getting it. There is simply no combination of words that you can put on your letterbox, whether it is ‘no junk mail’, ‘no unaddressed mail’ or ‘no political material’, that will stop you from receiving material you do not want.
In the six years I have been a member of parliament, a number of constituents have raised this problem with me. So I have tried, time and time again, to fix it and indeed I have communicated with Australia Post management on a number of occasions, and in particular made phone calls and even written letters to the CEO of Australia Post. But each and every time I have been told that the exemption is set in stone and there is simply nothing that can be done about it.
For the past several years I have even produced stickers that say ‘no junk mail including political material’. But this has been an imperfect solution because the stickers can, at best, only ever appeal to the discretion of individual posties to stop delivering political mail. But, of course, posties are professionals and feel compelled to deliver what Australia Post tells them to deliver. So they are put in the uncomfortable situation of having to put a piece of political mail in someone’s letterbox even when there is a sign there explicitly requesting that they do not do that.
So here I am taking my next step and trying to change the law with this bill that would amend the Australian Postal Corporation Act to prohibit Australia Post from delivering unaddressed political material to letterboxes where there is a sign saying ‘addressed mail only’ or’ no unaddressed mail’ or ‘no political material’.
The bill defines ‘political material’ as being anything from or about a political party, a candidate in a federal election, or a federal member of parliament or senator. That means that material about a politician but not necessarily from that politician—for example, a letter endorsing a federal candidate that comes from a union, a business or the state branch of a party—is also covered by the bill.
If this bill becomes law—and I sincerely hope that it does—the effect would be that Australia Post would be forced to amend its unaddressed mail terms and conditions and remove the current exemption for political material. The bill explicitly states the three forms of words that a resident would have to have on their letterbox to be exempt from receiving political material, and so it would not require individual posties to make a subjective judgement about whether or not to deliver something. The bill only applies to bulk unaddressed mail services, so there is no effect on things like personally addressed letters from a member or senator to their constituents.
Frankly, all this bill would do is ensure that people who do not want political mail in their letterbox do not get it—no more and no less. How remarkable then that I actually have to stand up in the federal parliament and move a private member’s bill to get that to happen. But regrettably I do.
At the same time, I do hold out hope that the government and the opposition will support what I am trying to achieve, because surely they would agree that it is the height of arrogance for politicians and political parties to force their written material on people who do not want it. Do we think that we are just so important or that what we have to say to people is so pressing that they must have it in their letterbox even if they do not want it? If we were doorknocking or making phone calls and someone said that they did not want to talk to us, would we just ignore that and carry on anyway? I do not think so. So why is it any different with mail?
I make the point again that I send out unaddressed mail myself and I find it a very useful way of communicating with my constituents. I especially try and make sure that the material I send out is at least useful and contains information that people might want to read, rather than politicking or electioneering. And the vast majority of people seem to be happy to get it or at least to not mind either way, but there are some people who do not want it and often for very good reasons. For instance people are concerned about environmental waste and would prefer to access political content online. Some people want to ensure that there is room in their letterbox for important mail. Indeed, one constituent told me that during an election campaign, they were not able to receive some important bills, because their letterbox was so full of political material. Some people are worried that when they go on holidays a build-up of mail in their letterbox will signal to potential thieves that their house is empty. Some people are worried about their privacy and just want to live undisturbed by politicians. And, quite frankly, I do not blame them.
At the end of the day it is our job as politicians to listen to our constituents. And that is something that unfortunately so many in this parliament fail at time and time again. Let me give you a few examples. Just last week I joined the member for Indi to move a motion in this place calling on the government to overhaul the parliamentary entitlements system, because this is an issue on which we know that the public want to see change. But here we are, a year after the Bronwyn Bishop episode and eight months after the panel led by John Conde and David Tune gave its recommendations to the government, and virtually nothing has happened. We still do not have things that the public want: like real-time reporting of expenses or a requirement for politicians who make travel claims to list the substantive reason for the trip. And then here is the issue of donations reform. Again just last week I stood here and introduced another private member’s bill, which would ban foreign donations. Now that is something that we know that the public overwhelmingly want, but what action have we seen from the major parties? Nothing. There is no appetite to lower the disclosure threshold, to place caps on donations or to ban foreign donations.
Political mail, political entitlements, political donations—there is a theme here. Time and time again there is a complete reluctance from politicians and parties to do anything that puts the public interest over their political self-interest. No wonder there has been an unprecedented level of support in recent years for independents and minor and micro parties.
These are not the only issues where politicians are failing to listen to the public. There are a whole range of policy areas where both parties are out of step with what the community want—for example, the fact that we still have not seen meaningful gambling reform, even though the majority of the public, at least, are sick and tired of poker machines in pubs and clubs and wall-to-wall sports betting ads. There is also the lack of meaningful action on climate change or the fact that we are still debating marriage equality in this place even though 72 per cent of Australians have said that they want it. And what about the dreadful fact that the government allows the live export trade to continue, even though we know that it lacks popular support?
As federal politicians, we are privileged to be well-resourced to communicate with our constituency. But with that privilege comes a responsibility to listen to what the community has to say and to represent their concerns in the parliament. That is our job.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge one particular constituent, Mr David Webb from Claremont, for his assistance in bringing into sharp focus the need for this bill. Thank you, David. I commend the bill to the House.