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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13278


Mr KING (1:00 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the widespread use of mobile phones in Australia, with subscriptions now at approximately 12 million;

(2) commends the Commonwealth Government and Australia's telecommunications carriers for their cooperative action in developing measures to address the problem of loss and theft of mobile phones, including:

(a) carriers implementing IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identification) number blocking technology, which can render a lost or stolen mobile phone inoperable;

(b) examination of regulatory reform to support IMEI blocking; and

(c) encouraging greater public awareness of this problem and recommending action consumers can take to protect themselves in the event of the loss or theft of their mobile phone; and

(3) notes the success of these measures to date and the recently reported falls in the level of mobile phone theft in Australia.

The Britney Spears song Hit Me One More Time does not necessarily refer to a physical altercation, nor to a robust love life, which I understand she claims she does not have. It means `send me another text message on your mobile phone'. That indicates to me that the whole question of the security of mobile phones today is vital, as the technology has become an integral part of people's lives—particularly young people's. There are now, as the motion indicates, some 12 million mobile telephone subscribers. Mobile phones in Australia are no longer the toys of the rich; they are in everyday use right across the community. Indeed, parents provide their children with mobile phones so that a constant line of communication is available to them. As a parent with two teenage sons, I am well aware of that phenomenon. Teenagers are even SMS messaging each other during school. They have embraced the technology of SMS messaging with so much gusto that a whole youth culture and nomenclature have developed around the technology.

With the spread of mobile phone use, a number of issues of general interest have been raised. The first relates to the question of responsible use. We need to develop a sensible and broadly accepted courtesy code for the use of mobile phones. The second relates to health and includes the possible radiological damage intensive long-term use of mobile phones may bring; in addition, according to physiotherapists there is even the possibility of SOS from constant SMS usage.

But today I am most concerned with the question of the loss of mobile phones through theft or otherwise. There are some 120,000 mobile phones lost annually, according to police and security sources. The consequences of the loss of a phone can be devastating. Kerryn Sloan, a councillor on Waverley council in my electorate, wrote to me recently and described the situation after her phone was lost:

It is like being in exile. All your communication lines are severed and the thought of what someone can do with your numbers and contacts is really worrying.

It is not just the loss of information and stored numbers on SIM cards; victims of mobile phone theft also incur the costs associated with paying out any fixed-term contracts, plus the expense of purchasing replacement phones. Dramatically, in Oxford Street, Bondi Junction—in my electorate—the theft of some $50,000 worth of mobile phones from the Optus World shop occurred at 3.30 a.m. last Monday.

The theft of mobile phones is a major issue and one which touches the lives of many ordinary Australians. I am pleased, therefore, to acknowledge in the terms of this motion that some progress has been made by the government and the three main carriers in relation to GMS phones. Last year, as a result of a special conference between the carriers and the Commonwealth government, a program of cooperative action in developing measures to address the problem of theft and loss of phones was put in place. That included implementing an international mobile equipment identification, or IMEI, number blocking system. That technology renders a lost or stolen mobile phone inoperable for further use. It is important to note that Telstra put in place its part of that blocking program on 15 August 2002 and that Vodafone put in place its part on 31 December 2002. On 31 March 2003—that is, very shortly—Optus will commence its blocking program. I am also pleased to say that AMTA, the carrier representative body, is putting in place a telecommunication cross-network program that will ensure that mobiles will be blocked across all networks. It is important that we publicise this to the broader community. That is one of the purposes of this motion. As a result of the initiatives taken by the government and the carriers—for which I commend them—I hope those initiatives will bear fruit and people's phones will be more secure. (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the motion seconded?


Mr Ticehurst —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.