Australia Post offers a variety of different postal tiers depending on your needs. It's worth looking at the fine print of what those tiers actually mean, however, especially as "Priority" mail can be anything but a priority to Australia Post.
My thinking on this was inspired by recent postal adventures, involving a letter sent out to me from Sydney last week. I also work in Sydney, and the total travel distance, as the crow flies, would have been no more than around 15km, although I'm willing to give a little leeway for the fact that postal vans do not, to the best of my knowledge, actually fly.
To be specific, it was an envelope, mailed on Friday 17th of July. That should have given them a rough delivery timeframe of either Monday 20th or Tuesday 21st to arrive if Australia Post wasn't doing a Saturday delivery in my area. I've never noticed them doing that, although it is apparently on the roadmap for this year.
The letter arrived on Thursday the 23rd, nearly a week to the day after it was posted.
Postal horror stories are nothing new, but what interested me was that this particular envelope was marked "Priority" mail. Six full days to deliver a letter marked "Priority" seemed a little slack to me, especially as Australia Post charges extra for that service.
So I did what anyone in the internet age does, and took to Twitter to whinge about it.
Grr. Letter sent priority mail within Sydney on 17/7 arrived 23/7. What on earth were you doing with it, @auspost ?
— Alex Kidman (@alexkidman) July 23, 2015
To which, and I was rather astounded by this, I got this response:
@alexkidman If you'd like a guaranteed delivery time frame you may like to consider Express Post - Nathan
— Australia Post (@auspost) July 23, 2015
So, in essence, Australia Post's answer to why a letter that cost extra to send didn't arrive in anywhere near a reasonable time frame was that instead of spending extra to send it, the person sending it should have spent even more money.
This, it is fair to say, did not exactly make me happy.
The twitter exchange went on, with an Australia Post representative stating that "The nature of the mail stream is such that delays can occur and is the primary reason we provide estimated delivery time frames for those services rather than guaranteed time frames."
That got me thinking about what Australia Post's actual guarantees were, so I went and looked them up.
According to Australia Post, if you want to send a letter in Australia, you've essentially got three pricing tiers to consider; regular, priority and express post. All have different prices, with (not shockingly) regular post being cheaper than priority and express post being the most costly option.
But what does that money buy you when it comes to actual delivery?
Here's what Australia Post says about its Regular and Priority mail schedules:
Priority: next business day for delivery within the same city or town. Regular: two to three business days for delivery within the same city or town.
As for Express Post, it's intended to be as follows, as per Australia Post's Web site:
We guarantee next business day delivery if you post your item within our Express Post network on a business day (Monday to Friday) and meet the Express Post service conditions.
However, only one of those three services is actually covered by a guarantee, and that's Express Post. The others are rather like those pictures of Corn Flakes delicately adorned with seriously shiny looking fruit you get on cereal packets — a serving suggestion.
From Australia Post's terms and conditions, it's pretty easy to see that in fact, the relative differences between Regular and Priority mail, if pushed, aren't all that much. There isn't even a definition for what "Priority" actually means, but there is this lengthy bit on Australia Post's liability for postal articles:
Australia Post will not
be liable for loss or damage arising from or caused by:
- 68.1.1 the injury, illness or death of any person;
- 68.1.2 misdelivery including delivery otherwise than to the addressee, delayed delivery, early delivery or failure to deliver any letter or article;
- 68.1.3 damage to the contents of an article whether concealed or otherwise, including but not limited to deterioration, contamination or evaporation of any article or thing; or
- 68.1.4 any other loss or damage of any kind, however caused and whether direct or consequential, including, but not limited to, negligence or breach of contract by Australia Post, its employees, servants or agents, that arises in whole or in part from, or in connection with, any services provided by Australia Post.
So don't get killed by Australia Post, in other words, because they're not going to turn up to court.
More germane to the issue, your recompense for either a regular or priority letter is essentially limited to Australia Post's generosity, with clauses that state that Australia Post "may in its absolute discretion" opt to refund postage or provide recompense for lost articles.
It's pretty clear from that Twitter response that the standard is more akin to saying "Tough luck for not buying the actual premium express service", however.
So what about Express Post? Where do your guarantees stand there?
It's actually not that much better, because while Australia Post does trumpet its Express Post Guarantee, that's only good for, in essence, selling yet more Australia Post services. Send an item Express Post and have it fail to appear, and Australia Post guarantees that it will "replace your envelope or satchel with the equivalent envelope or satchel."
It is a little more generous if you're sending an Express Post parcel, where its guarantee states that it will refund the cost of posting.
There's nothing in there about cost of lost goods or compensation, however; Australia Post merely covers its own business processes instead.
So what's the practical upshot if you've got an actually urgent letter to send?
Australia Post pretty much guarantees that if you send it Regular post it'll get there as slowly as possible in order to bump up Priority sending rates, but Priority as a term is essentially meaningless, as there's no recompense or regret if an article takes way longer than even regular mail.
Even with Express Post, if Australia Post stuffs up, the best you can hope for is that they'll give you another Express Post envelope for another try.