Post closure sparks concern

From left to right; Emma and Elaine Bradford had made going to the Fountain Gate Post Office a part of their daily routine for decades, with its closure sure to drive a wedge into their everyday lives. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Ethan Benedicto

The scheduled closure of the post office branch at Fountain Gate shopping centre on 21 June has sparked major concern from the local community.

A Narre Warren local for over 40 years, Elaine Bradford had made going to the Australia Post shopfront part of her weekly shopping run, where its shared nook with the nearby banks made a perfect starting point to pay her bills and send any mail.

However, it’s not just herself that she’s concerned about, but her daughter Emma – who has a disability – whom Ms Bradford provides care for on a round-the-clock basis.

“It just doesn’t make any sense why they’re closing a vital service.

“It’s going to make [my] life very difficult, we’d have to go into Webb Street, which, obviously with winter coming, there’s no cover at the car park.

“At least we can park undercover at the shopping centre, I can get her (Emma) out with a wheelchair and other bits and pieces and then just do everything that we need to do,” Ms Bradford said.

Emma, now 31-and-a-half years old, was diagnosed with Angelman’s Syndrome, which, generally, causes delayed development, speech and balance problems and mental disability.

In addition to a number of other medical conditions, Emma also has scoliosis and epilepsy, which for her and Ms Bradford, make moving from one place to another all the more difficult.

Sarb Mangat, Emma’s carer for roughly two years, echoes a similar sentiment, with the family relying on the ease of access the shopping centre gives them from parking to banking and groceries.

“It’s very hard, it’s a long distance from the shopping centre in Webb Street, they can’t walk during this winter you know?” she said.

An Australia Post spokesperson said that they have made the “difficult decision” to close the branch following “a 29 per cent drop in customer visits over the past four years”.

“The surrounding area is well-serviced, with six post offices within a five-kilometre radius, including the Narre Warren Post Office around a kilometre away,” they said.

Despite being a government business enterprise, Australia Post is self-funded with the Federal Government serving as its sole shareholder, meaning the business does not receive taxpayer funds and has paid dividends of more than $2.5 billion over the past 10 years.

In the recently released Federal Budget paper on overall strategy and outlook, AusPost reported a full financial year pre-tax loss of $200 million, which is its first annual loss since 2014-15, as quoted from the budget documents.

It was announced on 6 December 2023 that the Australian Government was to provide a package of reforms in order to boost productivity, increase its focus on parcel delivery services and improve financial stability.

However, “given the uncertainty surrounding Australia Post’s financial position, there is a risk that the [government] will need to consider providing financial assistance to [AusPost] in the future,” the budget papers stated.

However, while these alternatives may not hinder other shoppers, the same cannot be said for Ms Bradford and her daughter, where it’s not just an inconvenience in terms of transport, but also a severance of connection for Emma.

“We are time-poor, [our carer] comes in and she’s only allocated a certain amount of hours a day to support us.

“We have to get back in time to give Emma her lunch, do personal care and do other things in the afternoon before the carer leaves.

“There’s no time to run from here, there and everywhere to pay and do the things that I need to do,” Ms Bradford said.

Over the years, Emma has since built a foundation of friendship with many of the shopkeepers at the shopping centre, from the post office, to the concierge desk and to Myer.

“Emma has got to know a lot of the clientele up at the shops.

“She’s quite familiar with a lady in Myer that we’ve known for seven and a half years, she knows everyone in JBHiFi and you know, she likes to interact with them and it’s a pleasurable time for her to get out into the community.

“And you know, if I can’t do the things I need to do with her, with us, it’s going to force us to go elsewhere and that’s devastating because Emma won’t have that connection with the people that she’s known at the stores,” Ms Bradford said.

It’s understood the closure is related to the fact that fewer people utilise their services in person, opting to utilise online services instead.

The situation is a little different, not just for Ms Bradford, but other more traditional residents who frequent the shopping centre.

A routine set in stone for decades is about to be disrupted, with Ms Bradford saying that “it’s going to make things really challenging”.

“I’m there quite often, I can go to the bank, get the money out because I’m still old school and pay all my bits and pieces.

“With the extra charges they have to just swipe your cars and such, I’m not doing that either because every cent counts to me, I’m not having anyone take my money because I can’t afford to,” she said.

The surrounding suburbs of Berwick, Narre Warren, Narre Warren North and South, as well as Harkaway and Hallam, have a population where an average of 26 per cent are 55-plus, according to Casey’s Living and Ageing Well Action Plan 2023-25.

An elderly resident who also frequents the Fountain Gate branch said that “it would be a shame to see this one close down”.

“I’ve got a walker so going someplace else is going to be difficult,” he said.

The AusPost spokesperson said that leading to its closure “Fountain Gate Post shop team members will be offered new roles at surrounding outlets or closer to home”.

The Fountain Gate Post branch has multiple notices posted on its premises, informing of other available and nearby options as well as the date of closing.