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Government considering paper bill fee ban

Wednesday, 22 November 2017
By Jake Nelson

Keep Me Posted flyers at a post office in Burnley, Victoria.

The Federal Government has called for submissions to a public consultation into paper billing, which could see the practice of companies charging fees for paper bills restricted or banned.

Michael McCormack MP.

Michael McCormack, Minister for Small Business, has released a consultation paper and is seeking submissions from consumers, companies who charge for paper bills, and affected stakeholders. Options include banning the practice outright or limiting fees to actual costs incurred by businesses in sending paper bills. “There has been a significant shift away from paper billing in recent years, yet not every Australian consumer has the means to access digital billing and it is unfair to punish them for being unable to do so.

“Better outcomes and protections are needed for those consumers who do not have the option to transition to digital bills and who can least afford to be penalised,” said McCormack.

The minister said the Government had led the development of protection options since August, when consumer affairs ministers decided upon a consumer protection agenda. “This Government has a strong track record of protecting Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged and we will continue to firmly back consumers and all hard-working Australians,” he said.

Tim Hammond MP.

Tim Hammond, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, welcomed the move in a press release, but criticised the Government for being slow to act. “Labor welcomes Treasury’s consultation paper addressing the predatory practice of charging consumers fees to simply receive their bills by post. Australian consumers are sick and tired of paying extra just to receive a bill in the post, which they used to receive for free,” he said.

Hammond accused the Government of ‘fobbing the Parliament off’ following a private member’s motion on the issue earlier this year by saying Treasury would ‘look into it’. “The Government could have taken a solution to the meeting of Consumer Affairs ministers in August, but the Minister squibbed it. Instead he kicked it to the long grass by telling the meeting that he would ask Treasury to look into it. After months of dithering, only now has Treasury’s consultation commenced,” he said.

Kellie Northwood, Keep Me Posted.

The Keep Me Posted campaign, which opposes fees for paper billing, will meet with the Treasury Office on Thursday. Its submission will support a ban on fees, and Kellie Northwood, executive director of Keep Me Posted, urges industry stakeholders to participate. “We are very pleased to see the process starting, following the positive support for the campaign at the Consumer Affairs Forum. This consultation is the first step towards legislative reform,” said Northwood. “In the lead up to the launch of the consultation, we have been working closely with Minister McCormack’s office and are meeting with the Treasury office this week to gain greater detail into the consultation and the next steps. Following this, we will be calling on all industry stakeholders to lodge submissions of support to our position.”

A spokesperson for Australia Post told Print21 that the national mail carrier is reviewing the consultation paper to determine whether it should make a submission. “Obviously we support customers having a choice on what system works best for them, whether that’s paper or digital, but right now we’re still reviewing the consultation paper,” the spokesperson said.

Submissions can be made online via the Treasury website or via mail to The Treasury, Langton Crescent Parkes ACT 2600, and close on Friday, 22 December 2017.

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