Time to object and protest

Here we go again. Another Government-related agency slashes staff in Dunedin and centralises services, on this occasion in Christchurch.

This time it is New Zealand Post and the mail sorting room. This time the blow is especially savage.

The Dunedin mail processing centre is to be shut next year and the jobs of about 73 people (56 full-time equivalent staff) will be lost. The increase of staff in Christchurch is roughly the same number. Smaller satellite processing centres in Oamaru, Invercargill, Gore and Queenstown/Wanaka are also to shut, with their processing also off to Christchurch. And in the North Island, Wellington and Waikato will shut, with centralisation to Palmerston North and Auckland.

Dunedin has been hammered again and again by Government and Government agencies. In October, the already emaciated immigration office will shut. The territorials' Otago Southland Battalion Group has been amalgamated with the Canterbury group and is headquartered in Christchurch. Housing New Zealand's presence in Dunedin is now through an 0800 number.

KiwiRail, a state-owned entity, closed the Hillside workshops, a move apparently for the sake of few dollars and with no account of the burden of additional social costs. No wonder Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran speaks of the dismissive attitude of the Government towards the city and finds almost everyone agrees.

Not only are the closures damaging to the city, they are also short-sighted: standards of services in so many of these areas inevitably deteriorate. The last major New Zealand Post change was about 10 years ago, when 26 processing centres were reduced to six. While that had a detrimental effect, postal services muddled through and settled at a lower ''normal''.

Given New Zealand's, and especially the South Island's, geographic spread, six would seem the barest minimum number of sorting centres.

Now, mail posted anywhere in Otago and Southland will, presumably, go to Christchurch to be sorted. A bereavement card posted in, say, Mornington, to a family in South Dunedin will head a long way north before returning, adding to delays. Letters from Winton, Owaka or Alexandra will, it seems, also go to Christchurch, only for many to come back south. Services, of course, will be dependent on the vagaries of transport links.

And, of course, too, services will degrade further when three-day-a-week deliveries are introduced to urban areas, as is planned.

If timing is not quite right, mail could seemingly take forever to reach its destination. ''Snail mail'' will be a term loaded with frustration, rather than affection.

Mail volumes are, according to New Zealand Post, falling at 8% a year, and the company must be efficient. But an inferior delivery service can surely only make the decline accelerate. More than ever, anybody with items that must be delivered in a time-sensitive manner will be best to use other means.

One wonders, as well, if New Zealand Post would be eliminating processing in Dunedin if it did not have a monopoly. Supposedly, ''this is the right thing to do to make sure we have a viable mail processing network providing service to all of New Zealand now and into the future''.

If this is so, why not go the whole way and just have one sorting room? Then people everywhere - except the chosen centre - will experience the poor service becoming routine in so many areas of life outside the biggest cities.

We hear much of the problems of the largest urban centres, especially Auckland - and then decisions are made that exacerbate matters. Towns and cities with the scope to consolidate or expand are gutted as centralisation continues apace. New post ''processing'' job numbers in congested Auckland are actually to rise by 121 (80 FTE).

And still the rest of the country is sucked dry by centralisation, and then taxpayer subsidies must go to the largest centres to deal with resulting issues.

Dunedin has shown remarkable resilience in the face of centralisation. But it needs to object about - and protest against - this latest outrage. The people of Dunedin, and the South, have had more than enough of decision-makers in Wellington and Auckland undermining our future.

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