Aust Post backflips after business panic

Boutique food producers are breathing a ‘huge sigh of relief’ after Australia Post reversed its panic-inducing perishables ban.

Australia Post has reversed its decision to stop delivering perishables after sparking panic among boutique food producers who rely on mail orders as their lifeblood.

The government-owned service revealed on Monday it would no longer deliver perishable foods after June 30, blaming “complex food safety and regulatory requirements” that differed between states for the halt.

Australia Post contacted some producers – including makers of butter, cheese, truffles, smallgoods and native bush ingredients – to inform them of the decision.

The move caused widespread alarm even outside of those food categories, with Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory general manager Rhiannon Druce saying the business had been trying to find out if chocolate was included in the ban, to no avail.

Ms Druce said a ban would have had a massive impact given online sales had skyrocketed during the pandemic but the business was based in an isolated regional town so relied heavily on Australia Post.

“Regional businesses will suffer the most from this decision, as there is often no alternative to Australia Post,” she said after the ban was announced.

By Thursday, however, Australia Post had backflipped, announcing it would continue to deliver perishable goods across the nation “and work collaboratively to find solutions to support small business food producers”.

An industry working forum, to be co-chaired by Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson, has been formed to resolve cross-state regulatory issues.

The forum will also have representatives from industry bodies, the small business sector and producers to find possible solutions.

“We recognise the original date for ceasing perishable transport through our network would cause significant disruption to small businesses, many who have experienced significant growth in e-commerce sales during COVID-19,” Australia Post acting group chief executive Rodney Boys said.

“Through this new forum, we will better understand what our customer capabilities and needs are and work hand-in-hand with regulators to determine where changes may be required.”

Mr Billson said small business food producers, especially those in regional areas, were “breathing a huge sigh of relief”.

The first meeting between Australia Post and Mr Billson is slated for Tuesday.

The broader industry group will then meet next month, with a view to holding regular sessions with key regulatory bodies, government agencies and e-commerce experts.

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