Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Is that the sound of the last post?

Relentless cuts to much-loved mail service will cost us in the end.

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

For most of us, the endless bills, furniture catalogues and dental check-up reminders that constitute the bulk of our daily mail isn't exactly the stuff of which dreams are made.

But try explaining the concept of mail to young children and see just how magical it can seem. They don't realise the letter they proudly clutch is a statement about the interest on the desultory sum in their KiwiSaver account - they just see their name on the front of the envelope and feel like bursting with excitement. "Someone sent something specially to me?" they bellow. "Cool!"

Perhaps we should instead be trying to persuade our loin fruit of the enchantment that is receiving 500 emails a day, or the wondrousness of courier drivers. Because post is on its way out, we are told. Snail mail, the stuff of yesteryear. Tough bananas if you don't have internet access, or live in a place where it's patchy, or even enjoy getting actual letters. Or if you're a small business or charity which may rely more heavily on post.

Either way, you're an antiquated refusenik trying to bleed the country dry by demanding letters be delivered every weekday.

It's in keeping with the New Zealand way, of course. Why have a great service, when we can have a cheaper, vastly inferior one? Why see money invested in the people and all the services a postal system is designed to offer, when you can have 2000 fewer people on your payroll and focus on customers who can pony up for premium parcel delivery?

Granted, mail volumes have dropped by as much as 30 per cent since 1996, prompting those job losses and the eventual reduction of mail delivery to just a few days a week. That seems to make sense, but what's the bet that, before long, mail delivery will cease altogether, to be replaced by a system where mail boxes are hired at substantial cost from NZ Post and all of us have to traipse to a central collection point to collect our correspondence?

In the meantime, there is no doubt that we will all be paying more to send mail: the cost of a letter will increase, in an inverse relationship to the level of service and speed of delivery.

It is not as if NZ Post is going broke. It pays at least $5 million each year to the government, profits are soaring (up 18 per cent if the SOE's first-half profit growth is anything to go by) and its offshoot Kiwibank can only gain from the "rock star economy". Oh, and a big old Goldman Sachs report scheduled for the end of this month will undoubtedly identify new and wholly unexplored areas of fat for the trimming.

I suppose we can at least be pleased we don't live in a remote corner of Australia, where mail deliveries have been curtailed for years - a scenario now foreshadowed for urban centres - and all the while, Australia Post turns in phenomenal profits, like A$311.9 million last year, after tax.

Rumours continue to swirl that the Australian Government is planning to hive off Australia Post, hungrily eyeing up the $3 billion it is expected to make from such a sale. Would a future New Zealand government go the same way, selling off a bedrock public service for a bit of a boost on the balance sheet?

On present evidence, most probably.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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