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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23372


Mr WILLIAMS (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (7:11 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be disagreed to.

The government appreciates that the parties in this matter have invested some significant effort in attempting to develop constructive amendments to the Spam Bill 2003 and the Spam (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003. The government has carefully and seriously considered the amendments that have been put forward to see what improvements they might offer for these bills. Unfortunately, after careful examination, we have concluded that the amendments put forward cannot be supported, for a number of reasons. The amendments undermine the fundamental policies guiding the legislation, provide the potential for adverse consequences or abuse, substantially duplicate existing provisions or are simply unnecessary. In their original form, the Spam Bill and the Spam (Consequential Amendments) Bill provide an effective and coherent approach to the problem of spam, providing a strong, consent based regime with narrow, closely defined exemptions. If these amendments were to pass, they would change the legislation into something which is at best inconsistent and they would dilute the core principle of the Spam Bill—the principle of consent.

The amendment that states that commercial electronic messages can be sent without consent provided the recipient would have a commercial interest in it would make enforcement of the legislation much more difficult and provide a potential loophole for spammers to exploit. The conspicuous publication provisions in the Spam Bill are a better and more selective way of meeting the same intent—to allow messages to be sent that are relevant to the recipient without their express consent. But this approach is restricted to circumstances where the recipient has chosen to publish their work related electronic address. In moving these amendments, Senator Lundy indicated that Labor's focus was on individuals in their homes, as opposed to what she claimed was the government's focus on commercial or business scenarios. I can reassure Senator Lundy, and this House, that the government has not focussed on any one scenario, or any one group, to the detriment of others.

As I have previously stated, the development of this bill has been a balancing act, and in finding the balance we have consulted widely and listened hard. We have finetuned the package as we received feedback, and that has helped produce the very workable package of measures that we brought to parliament. We appreciate that there are a range of issues which other parties and groups have regarding the provisions of the bills currently before the House. There may be some issues worthy of further exploration but there are none that need to be immediately resolved. If any issues make themselves apparent in the first years of the legislation's operation, these can be considered in the scheduled review. This will allow an appropriate opportunity for further consultation on these issues and allow the passage of time to help sort the hype and hysteria that has arisen from some quarters from the reality of seeing the legislation in action.

I understand that Senator Lundy has indicated that the bills will ultimately pass the Senate with the Labor Party's support, and I thank her for that. The bills indeed deserve that support. The public are entitled to the best protection we can provide them from this menace as soon as we can provide it. It is appropriate at this point to temper the expectation with a dose of reality. The legislation represents only one element in one country's package of measures in dealing with the problem. Dealing effectively with spam is going to require time and a great deal of effort, both nationally and internationally. While not the be-all and end-all in the fight against spam, this legislation is a good first step and provides an excellent model for the rest of the world to consider. I commend these bills to the House, but I do not commend the amendments.