Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
Page: 11610


Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications) (13:11): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014 (the bill) is to contribute to the government's deregulatory agenda to reduce red tape for industry and individuals and streamline the delivery of public interest telecommunications services by reducing bureaucratic duplication and enabling clear lines of accountability.

The bill includes: measures dealing with the abolition and transfer of the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) to the Department of Communications; and deregulatory measures in relation to extending the Do Not Call Register registration period, reducing the scope of telephone pre-selection obligations, reducing reporting and record-keeping requirements on telecommunications companies, and other minor amendments.

Abolition and transfer of TUSMA (Public interest telecommunications services)

TUSMA was established as a statutory agency dedicated to the implementation and administration of telecommunications service agreements and grants within its own legislative framework.

In line with the government's current policy to consolidate smaller agencies to reduce administrative and governance costs, the government, as part of the May 2014 budget, announced its intention to abolish TUSMA, transfer TUSMA's responsibilities to the Department of Communications and transfer provisions relating to the assessment and collection of the Telecommunications Industry Levy to the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Consumer Protection Act).

The abolition and transfer of TUSMA's responsibilities to the Department of Communications will:

enhance lines of accountability and help the government focus on its core responsibilities and priorities

ease the cost burden on business by modestly reducing the amount of the telecommunications industry levy that industry pays to help fund the cost of delivering the universal service obligation and other public interest telecommunications services

create greater certainty for industry by having a single agency responsible for policy and implementation of telecommunications universal service matters.

Further to the bill, the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Amendment Bill 2014 makes consequential and transitional changes to the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Act 2012, reflecting the transition of the assessment and collection of the industry levy from the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Act 2012 to the Consumer Protection Act.

Deregulatory Measures

The bill also includes a number of deregulatory measures through amendments to key provisions in the:

Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (DNCR Act)

Telecommunications Act 1997 (Telecommunications Act)

Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act. Do Not Call Register

The bill amends the Do Not Call Register Act by implementing an indefinite registration period for the Do Not Call Register and the 9.3 million numbers currently registered on it.

The Do Not Call Register is a popular consumer protection measure introduced by the Howard government with over two-thirds of Australian households with fixed-line telephones and over four million mobile telephone numbers now registered.

The extensive consultation undertaken by the government also supports this position with consumers overwhelmingly preferring an indefinite registration.

The amendment will allow consumers to register their telephone, mobile phone and fax numbers indefinitely, avoiding the need to re-register every eight years. This saves $3.4 million a year over a 10-year period in administration costs.

The current exemptions for political parties and charities to make telemarketing calls remain intact and are not impacted by the amendments.

Pre-selection

The bill also relaxes the obligations on telecommunications companies in part 17 of the Telecommunications Act to provide pre-selection.

When the telecommunications market in Australia was first opened up to competition in the early 1990s pre-selection was a very important mechanism to stimulate competition.

The incumbent was required to provide 'pre-selection' so that customers taking a service from the incumbent could choose another provider for long distance and international calls.

This introduced competition in long distance and international services—without new entrants being required to build out their own access networks.

Today, however, the market has evolved to a point where pre-selection is used by only a small number of customers—around 30,000—because pricing structures have changed, long distance and international calls are now much cheaper, and many customers take a bundled service offering unlimited calls in exchange for a flat payment per month.

In this context, the cost of requiring pre-selection capability to be built into platforms is not justifiable and can act as a deterrent to these platforms being used for voice services.

The bill will limit pre-selection to legacy networks—public switched telephone and integrated services digital networks only.

This will not reduce pre-selection for existing customers, but will reduce costs to the telecommunications industry.

The government anticipates that these changes will also increase flexibility in the delivery of telephony to Australian consumers.

A new ministerial power will be created to enable, by legislative instrument, particular telecommunications networks to be either excluded or included within the redefined scope of pre-selection.

These changes to pre-selection are a measure of a healthy and highly competitive telecommunications market in Australia.

The amendments in the bill will limit pre-selection to legacy networks, thus reducing costs to the telecommunications industry by an estimated $3.2 million a year.

Record-keeping requirements

The bill will also make changes to reporting and record-keeping requirements in part 13 of the Telecommunications Act which prohibit telecommunications companies from using and disclosing information, except in certain circumstances.

The current record-keeping and reporting obligations contained within part 13 are administratively burdensome and have little practical consumer benefit.

The bill repeals the obligation for telecommunication companies to report annually to the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), on information disclosures made.

The bill will also reduce the obligation on telecommunications companies to make and keep records for the following purposes:

when disclosing information to assist regulators, including the ACMA, the Australian Competition and

Consumer Commission, and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

when disclosing information to assist when summoned to give evidence as a witness

when disclosing information when the person concerned has consented.

This amendment will save industry $0.19 million a year in administration costs.

Telephone sex services

This bill will also repeal part 9A of the Consumer Protection Act, which regulates the supply of telephone sex services via a standard telephone service.

These provisions are now out-dated due to advances in technology, the evolution of the telecommunications market and changes in consumer behaviour.

The government is not reducing the level of protections and community safeguards for content. The strong content rules established by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 will remain in place.

E-marketing

The government also proposes to remove the arrangements for the ACMA to register e-marketing codes under part 6 of the Telecommunications Act.

In June 2014, the ACMA deregistered the eMarketing Code because its relevance had significantly diminished since it was first registered some nine years ago.

In line with this rationale, the government considers the e-marketing provisions in part 6 are also no longer relevant and it is unlikely that any future codes dealing with e-marketing activities will be necessary.

The interests and rights of consumers are in no way compromised by removing these provisions. The regulatory regime established by the Spam Act 2003 remains in place and is more than adequate to deal with future e-marketing issues.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

The bill also makes some minor amendments to the publishing requirements in part 6 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act. It removes antiquated 'gazettal' publishing requirements to bring them into the 21st century.

These changes reflect consumer reliance on web-based information and modern-day publishing practices.

Customer Service Guarantee

Lastly, the bill also includes minor amendments to streamline and improve the operation of the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) to help reduce the compliance burden on industry without impacting on the protections the Customer Service Guarantee provides for consumers.

The proposed amendments and deregulatory measures in the bill are the result of extensive consultation that began almost 12 months ago.

There has been extensive and close consultation between industry, consumer groups, government agencies and the Department of Communications as the bills have been developed.

This involvement has been crucial to the deregulatory measures that are before the House today. I thank all those who have been involved for their involvement and their commitment to this reform process.

This bill delivers real reform in the communications portfolio through better regulation to lower the cost burden on industry and consumers, with expected savings of $6.9 million a year.

Debate adjourned.