Building partnerships to help keep Australia strong

When nearly every aspect of life is being affected by a worldwide pandemic, staying connected is vital. Accomplishing such a goal requires a strong commitment to partnership. Here’s how some organisations are working together to ensure no one gets left behind.

In anticipation of COVID-19 outbreaks, Terry McKendry, Australia Post Manager, Logistics & Freight Growth – Government says many Australia health services were told to increase their stock of PPE and other supplies. Finding space for such an increase in inventory proved a challenge for some.

“Their warehouses weren’t able to accommodate the rapid increase in stock,” he explains. “They had to act quickly and come up with additional ways to manage their stock to ensure supplies could be sent to various hospitals within 24 to 48 hours.”

With safety guidelines in place to protect patients and frontline workers, health facilities had to find new ways to continue providing care to Australians in need. For many, that meant working with Australia Post to deliver essential services.

This included delivering medicine to patients who would normally visit a hospital, blood pressure monitors to pregnant women with gestational diabetes who were unable to visit the doctor and the delivery of other vital PPE equipment around the state.

Many other organisations face similar issues around the country as they work to keep Australians connected and serviced in the face of a pandemic: obtaining and storing inventory, deploying an increased number of goods and establishing new supply chains.

“In addition to collecting, sorting and moving PPE and other health equipment around, we’re helping providers get supplies to remote and rural communities” explains McKendry. 

Ensuring no one gets left behind

For Australia’s most vulnerable citizens, access to essential food and other supplies was a real concern when restrictions were first introduced. In Victoria, Australian Red Cross and the state government worked with partners – including Foodbank and Australia Post1 – to deliver emergency relief packages to those self-isolating, or with little food and no network of family and friends to support them. 

“At a time when many people were in quarantine or mandatory isolation, access to food became even harder for those who were already struggling.” according to Kate Siebert, Australian Red Cross state manager emergency services.

“I’m proud that our volunteers could be part of this effort to help people when they needed it most. We got so many messages of gratitude, not only for the food but for the sense of community that these deliveries created.” 

“The strong bonds we had already built with Australian Red Cross during previous crises, including the 2018 drought appeal and 2019 bushfire crisis, helped us fast-track a solution to get these care packages to those who needed them most,” says Emma McClements, Australia Post’s community partnerships manager, disaster lead.

“Governments have been careful to ensure they don’t disenfranchise sections of the community challenged by and with limited access to technology,” says Joel Dawson, Australia Post federal government sales director.

The mailbox is a tried and true avenue for important communications. In a January 2020 survey of more than 2,000 consumers, about 90% of Australians said they would read or skim mail sent to them by the federal government. One example is making sure documents regarding vital government benefits are available to those unable or unwilling to apply online.

“Paper-based forms need to be sent physically from various offices around the country to centralised processing facilities – and in a reasonable timeframe – so citizens can gain access to benefits and services without long delays” Dawson says. As of 23 April, Centrelink had processed more than 587,000 JobSeeker and 275,000 JobKeeper applications, and there had been 456,000 early superannuation access applications to the ATO.3

“Paper-based forms need to be sent physically around the country in a reasonable timeframe so citizens can quickly access those services,” Dawson says. 

Public servants have also been greatly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Those in the Department of Treasury, Department of Education and Finance are all overseeing periods of drastic upheaval. Like millions of other Australians, they’ve had to carry out professional duties from home. 

Australia Post’s Decipha mail digitisation solution is now scanning and securely transmitting mailed documents to public servants. That way they can process requests and applications from a home environment, away from mailrooms and office desks. 

Developing new solutions to strengthen community bonds

Self-isolation restrictions can take a mental toll when citizens can’t interact. In March, Lifeline received a record 90,000 calls, while in April, Beyond Blue said it was receiving 30% more calls than before the pandemic started.

When Stage 3 restrictions prohibited citizens from visiting libraries in Victoria, the Eastern Regional Library Corporation collaborated with Australia Post to create a new book delivery service straight to Readers. They can request a book through Eastern Regional’s online catalogue or contact library staff, who will make a selection for them. Each member can receive one delivery per month.

The group learned how to order boxes, use manifests, print shipping labels and establish contact-free pick-up zones at four of its branches and its head office.

On 9 April, after a “two-day boxing frenzy” the service shipped its first 180 boxes of books according to Sarah Hopkins, Eastern Regional corporate manager of customer experience. Since then, it has sent more than 4,000 boxes. Library members can receive one delivery per month and can request books online or call the library for suggestions of what they might like to read.

“People are constantly telling us how grateful they are, how it makes them feel more connected,” Hopkins says. “They don’t feel so isolated or lonely. This includes older people whose families can’t visit, or families with small children who are home schooling. They say it’s like Christmas.”

“It all makes it worth it for us, that’s why we do it,” says Premal Niranjan, Eastern Regional Corporate Manager of Business and Technology. “We’re big on forming strong communities, and it’s particularly important to provide a service like this when times are tough.”

In just a few months, COVID-19 has turned long-held assumptions about the way we do things upside down – and trusted partnerships like these have never been more important as organisations rise to unexpected challenges.

Even though we may be physically apart, by pulling together as a collective we can ensure communities stay connected, and no one is left behind.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for your business needs.

1 https://www.redcross.org.au/news-and-media/media-centre/media-releases/vic-food-supplies-covid-19

2 Effectiveness of Mail For Government, Bastion Insights, January 24, 2020

3 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/02/australias-coronavirus-lockdown-the-first-50-days

4 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-27/coronavirus-uncertainty-increasing-anxiety-mental-health/12182736

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