The thought processes in the public sector continue to astound the rest of the nation. Those in the private sector who had hoped that the conversion of the old Postmaster-General's Department and its split into two statutory corporations would produce commercial approaches have been doomed to bitter disappointment.
To illustrate: A few years ago Australia Post with some flourish launched a special "Express Post" service, with its own jazzy and expensively designed logo.
This is presumably intended to complement other recent technological innovations such as its public "Fax Centres" and electronic postal services undreamt of a few years ago. Elaborate new canary-coloured pillar boxes now duplicate the traditional red-painted receivers on some city street corners.
In this age of deregulation the management of Australia Post is understandably enough trying to attract custom away from the various private sector entrepreneurs who are very successfully competing with it in the courier industry.
The business community, when needing speedy action, has for years found it more attractive to pay dollars per letter to unofficial delivery specialists rather than to buy a 45-cent stamp (or whatever the rate was at the time) from an unreliable post office. The powers that be in that organisation seem at last to have received that message.
But does the new scheme really make sense for the community? For example, in respect of a correctly posted envelope, Australia Post proudly asserts that:
"... we guarantee to deliver it by the next business day - or we will provide another Express Post envelope free of charge".
This does not seem to indicate that the authorities have much faith in the reliability of their brand new glamour service, as otherwise they would surely have said something on the lines of:
"... we guarantee to deliver it by the next business day - or we will pay the sender $10,000 compensation for not having honoured our solemn undertaking in this regard".
If they truly were to always meet their promise of prompt delivery then such a formula would clearly cost them nothing.
The wording of the guarantee also says much about the public service mentality of those now running Australia Post. In the real world outside - in industry and commerce - the failure of an envelope to get to its intended destination in due time could in some instances cost the sender a large sum of money - for example, in the case of tender documents missing a critical deadline.
A mere refund of postage - possibly only a small fraction of the amount of cash actually lost - would be cold comfort in such circumstances.
Many urgent business communications need to be reduced to writing for legal reasons or simply as a precaution against error or misunderstanding. In this era of high technology such messages are often transmitted by facsimile or electronically through computer modems.
However, not everything lends itself to such an approach. Some commercial material still needs to be transported from point A to point B in a physical sense. For this reason stockbrokers, merchant banks, solicitors, listed companies, news gathering organisations, small businesses and many others make frequent use of the "bicycle brigade" in order to run urgent dispatches around the city.
Fifty years ago the postage on an ordinary letter was the pre-decimal equivalent of about two cents. There were 11 mail deliveries a week - two each week-day and one on Saturdays. The concept of "service" was the norm.
In 2001 postage is 45 cents and deliveries are down to five a week. Letters often seem to take days to get from one suburb to the next. Little wonder that the system is usually referred to as "snail mail".
The idea that persons who want a letter delivered more quickly than is customary should have to buy a special pre-paid envelope at their local post office for $3.50 or $4.60 (according to size) and then post it with its contents in one of the special boxes by 6 p.m. on the day before they desire delivery is just a cop-out.
On a related matter, in this era of privatisation and level playing fields the long-standing statutory immunity from legal action which Australia Post presently enjoys in respect of all of its activities should surely now be removed.
In particular, if that body wants to compete with the private sector in providing courier services and the like, then why should it continue to be exempt from suits which seek proper damages if it is negligent or if it breaches a contract for which it is being paid on a commercial basis?
The provision of a free envelope to a customer whose letter did not get to its destination in time may in any event turn out be an empty gesture. The frustrated customer may well choose never to risk urgent business dispatches to Australia Post again.
Finally, two other points arise:
Firstly, why does Australia Post really feel that it needs to set up a special service, at an extra price, to provide a "next day" delivery timetable which most users would think should be the norm in any case? Should its efforts not be directed towards improving the quality of its standard letter service rather than dreaming up ways for customers to actually bypass this service?
Secondly, how good is "next day" anyway? In many cases it means, not "next morning", but rather "next afternoon". To complement this trend to ever later postal deliveries the authorities have merely compounded their customers' difficulties by introducing even earlier closing times for the clearing of ordinary street receivers.
And, just by way of a special bonus, the new Express Post service's celebrated next day guarantee does not even apply to letters mailed on Saturdays or Sundays!