The Labour government elected in 1984 introduced a policy of economic rationalisation of government services in the mid-1980s. It considered the Post Office was losing money, failing to meet the needs of customers, and struggling to cope with the demands of its various wings and numerous responsibilities. The government split the Post Office into three independent state-owned enterprises on 1 April 1987: New Zealand Post, which dealt with mail; Telecom Corporation of New Zealand, which included the telecommunications side; and Postbank for banking.
In 1989 Postbank was sold to ANZ bank, and Telcom was sold into private ownership in 1990. New Zealand Post remained a state-owned enterprise, and in 2002 launched a new banking arm, Kiwibank.
The mail in Manunui
The closure of post offices in provincial towns reflected the decline of small-town New Zealand. Manunui was a busy King Country town in the 1920s, with a settled population and churches, schools, a police station, and a post office. The town declined steadily after its mill closed in 1942. The post office was closed in February 1988. Population numbers continue to drop, and the once-busy Manunui main street is today a rural delivery area.
Post office closures
In 1988 New Zealand Post closed 432 post offices, mostly in small communities, to reduce the costs of mail administration and delivery. Many people were outraged. Rural communities in particular saw their post office as a key part of their identity, akin to their church or town hall. Post office staff at Waipū, in Northland, stamped ‘Waipu Post Office Will Not Close’ on every piece of mail they handled. Signs bearing the same message were erected every eight kilometres between Auckland and Whangārei. Despite their efforts, the post office closed.
New Zealand Post rationalised its business in other ways. Mail-sorting changed with the introduction of computerised mail-sorting machines in the main centres in 1992. Mail was sorted quickly, and the transport system which moved the mail between centres was also rejuvenated.
The surviving post offices were redesigned as ‘post shops’, focusing on the commercial aspects of mail delivery and stripping away many of the services previously provided, such as banking (until it was reinstated in 2002).
The government announced in 1988 that it intended to deregulate the postal market and open it to competition, though this was not introduced until 1 April 1998. Under the terms of deregulation, New Zealand Post was still required to deliver mail to all parts of New Zealand.
In 2008 there were 25 postal operators registered with the Ministry of Economic Development. Pete’s Post, established in 1999 by Murray and Denise McBeth, was probably the most successful. The company undercut New Zealand Post’s prices for local delivery, and nine franchise operations were operating in other districts by 2003.
A communications revolution
Other forms of technology have diminished the volume of standard mail since the 1980s. Fax machines, which allowed almost instant transmission of information, were widely available by the early 1990s. The use of the internet and email was widespread by the end of the 20th century, and sending text messages by mobile phone also became popular.
As the popularity of web-based mail increased, the nature of physical mail changed. Personal letters decreased, and bulky packages and courier items increased as internet shopping grew more popular.
New Zealand Post introduced a new system of postcodes in 2006, in response to a 25% increase in delivery addresses in the previous 10 years, and urged the public to learn their postcodes.