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Thursday, 16 August 2007
Page: 48


Ms LEY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (12:29 PM) —Part 1 of schedule 2 to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing and Datacasting) Bill 2007 amends the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005, the ACMA Act, to authorise the disclosure of certain information by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, departments, government agencies and regulatory bodies. ACMA frequently receives information through the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers as the Australian government regulatory body responsible for broadcasting, telecommunications and radio communications matters.

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and certain other Australian government regulatory bodies have a legitimate interest in receiving information that is obtained by ACMA. At present, the circumstances in which ACMA can legitimately pass on information are uncertain. The amendments in this bill will provide ACMA with an appropriate level of certainty and, in so doing, will enhance the efficiency of the regulator’s enforcement activities.

The amendments will be of particular benefit to ACMA in the context of its role in the government’s media ownership reforms that took effect from 4 April 2007. In dealing with industry in relation to a proposed merger, both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, or ACCC, and ACMA are likely to receive evidence relating to the question of control of commercial broadcasting licences. As arrangements currently stand, ACMA would be unable to share such information with the ACCC, even though it is relevant to the performance of the ACCC’s statutory functions under the Trade Practices Act 1974 in considering and approving proposed media mergers. Amendments to the Trade Practices Act 1974 to provide the ACCC with powers to disclose protected information were recently passed by the parliament. However, no similar powers exist for ACMA.

ACMA has also established close relationships with overseas regulatory agencies in developing cooperative arrangements for the regulation of the internet industry. The global nature of the internet means that liaison with regulatory and other relevant bodies overseas is a vital part of addressing offensive internet material and working towards securing child safety online. This bill will make clear ACMA’s ability to share with overseas regulatory agencies important information it has gathered pursuant to its online content responsibilities. It will also authorise ACMA to share relevant material with domestic law enforcement agencies, including the Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. In addition, the removal of potential barriers to information sharing with regulatory and other agencies will go some way to helping reduce duplication and the reporting burden on industry. There have been some instances in which regulators have requested similar information from industry, creating an undesirable overlap and an otherwise avoidable burden for industry.

Clearly, the information ACMA receives from regulated entities has the potential to be sensitive, and it is therefore appropriate that the bill includes a number of provisions designed to ensure that appropriate protection is provided to sensitive and personal information. Whilst the majority of the information ACMA collects is commercial in nature, the continued application of the Privacy Act 1988, together with other safeguards incorporated into the bill, will ensure that appropriate measures are in place for the protection of personal information that might fall within the scope of the bill.

It should also be noted that the bill has been drafted so as to restrict ACMA’s ability to share authorised disclosure information to certain prescribed circumstances that have strong links to the regulatory functions of other parts of the government. Further, the ACMA chairman must be satisfied that the recipient of the information will meet conditions regarding the handling of that information and that the information will assist the recipient in performing its functions. The provisions in this bill will enable ACMA to incorporate to the greatest extent possible with the minister, government departments and other key regulatory agencies in performing its vital functions in relation to the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radio communications and telecommunications. The public interest in good governance would not be served by restricting the ability of regulators to work cooperatively and share information on related issues.

Part 2 of schedule 2 to this bill amends the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to correct anomalies relating to spectrum replanning for licences on the unassigned channels and amends the Datacasting Charge (Imposition) Act 1998 in relation to license fees on channel B. The bill amends the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to give ACMA greater flexibility in carrying out its spectrum management functions in relation to datacasting transmitter licences. The provisions will permit ACMA to vary a condition of a datacasting transmitter licence that relates to radiofrequency spectrum after such a licence has been allocated. This will bring datacasting transmitter licences into line with broadcasting transmitter licences and other apparatus licences. The existing provisions do not allow ACMA to vary the spectrum specified in a datacasting transmitter licence after that licence has been issued.

These amendments will allow ACMA to address a range of technical issues as they arise. Such technical issues could include addressing potential interference with existing services and optimising spectrum for particular services such as mobile TV. The power to vary frequencies on which licences operate is already available to ACMA in relation to other transmitter licences. The amendments will create a consistent approach and enable ACMA to more effectively address technical considerations, including future spectrum replanning requirements after digital switch-over to reap the digital dividend.

These amendments will not adversely affect ACMA’s ability to address interference issues. If interference with television transmission does occur, the datacasting transmitter licensee responsible for the interfering service must take immediate action to prevent the interference. Neither will these amendments reduce the need for consultation in relation to changes in frequencies for datacasting transmitter licences. The amendments will simply empower ACMA to make these changes after the licence is issued, which is consistent with ACMA’s existing powers in relation to transmitter licences for broadcasting services.

The government’s intention is that a channel B datacasting transmitter licensee will not be subject to an annual revenue based fee. The bill amends the Datacasting Charge (Imposition) Act 1998 to correct anomalies concerning the application of datacasting charges in relation to channel B to ensure that the government’s intention is implemented in a case where channel B is controlled by a commercial television broadcasting service. I commend the bill to the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hatton)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Grayndler has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.