I am not a rabid believer in privatisation. I believe that it probably did not make sense to sell the airports and that a long term lease or management contract over the terminals would have been better. I also have my doubts about capital intensive projects like highways. There is little entrepreneurial skill in managing a road . They are mostly an exercise in capital raising, which theoretically a government can do at lower cost. I realise there might be a flaw in this argument, though I can’t spot it.
But there is no doubt that with any activity that requires a few management skills, the government will be rubbish. I have written here about the Sydney Ferries, a great example of this principle. Since I wrote that, services have been reduced and fares increased, usually not a winning business strategy.
Another example is the post office.
We get our mail delivered to a post office box. I won’t bother you with the reasons – they have to do with a postman who did not always want to deliver the mail and who was known to smash the letter box of anyone who complained.
I have to go to the post office each day to collect the mail. We are charged to rent the box ($80 a year) and also pay a fee ($70) to instruct the post office not to give our mail to the postman but instead to put it in the box. Now, the box is pretty small so if anything arrives that won’t fit or which needs a signature, they put a card in the box asking me to go to the counter. There is usually a long line at the counter, sometimes out the door. The post office does all sorts of other things as well as handling letters and selling stamps. They process passport applications, which seem to take about ten minutes. They sell inkjet printers, DVDs, toys and telescopes. So the line moves very slowly. The new CEO of Australia Post. Ahmed Fahour, who used to be with NAB, understandably wants to take them into the banking business. That is unlikely to shorten the lines.
I also use a service called Mail Boxes Etc. I get large parcels, cases of wine and anything that needs a signature delivered there. They do photocopying, printing and other office services. The funny thing is that there is never a line. They know me and as I go through the door they are usually ready with my parcel. Once the manager stopped me in the street to remind me they had a parcel. MBE is not government owned.
I am surprised that there a still people about who believe in government ownership of business.
The Greens want the NBN to never ever be privatised. Bob Ellis says nothing should ever be privatised. Academics are arguing against sale of Queensland Rail. But none of these people live in what some of us call the real world – they have never, so far as I know, had to produce anything and then persuade customers to hand over money for it.
What I do wonder, though, is whether any of them has been to a post office?.