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Thursday, 25 May 2006
Page: 10


Mr McGAURAN (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:43 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This is the legislation families tired and angry at the flood of telemarketing calls during evening dinner times have long awaited. Six pm to 8 pm are the bewitching hours for telemarketers, with five or more calls regularly disrupting dinner preparation and precious family time. Say goodbye to constant rings with interruption and intrusion.

The Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 provides a direct response to growing community concerns about unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls. The number of unsolicited calls in Australia has grown significantly in recent years, to the point of intolerability, and has led to rising community concerns about the inconvenience and intrusiveness of telemarketing. Telemarketing can intrude on everyday activities, from getting the kids ready for school to making the evening meal. For many, these calls are disruptive and cause frustration and anger.

The government is addressing these concerns by giving Australian phone users the right to opt out of receiving unsolicited and unwelcome telemarketing calls and by creating a more consistent and efficient operating environment for the telemarketing industry. Similar arrangements have been adopted in the United States and United Kingdom in response to the same kinds of difficulties experienced in those countries. Canada is also currently considering the introduction of a do not call register.

The telemarketing industry itself has also called for action. The current rules governing telemarketing practices are contained in various instruments, including voluntary codes, state and territory legislation and Commonwealth law.

This fragmented and sometimes inconsistent approach has led to calls from industry organisations such as the Australian Direct Marketing Association for the government to address the issue of inconsistency. This is needed to provide telemarketers with more operational certainty and consumers with more effective complaint-handling mechanisms. Currently, there is no single body to which consumers can register a complaint.

Outline of the Do Not Call scheme

Under the arrangements set out in the bill, a national Do Not Call Register would be established.

People who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls would have the option of applying for their fixed and mobile numbers to be recorded on the register. Once a number is registered, it will be prohibited for telemarketers to contact that number, except in limited specified circumstances. In recognition of the potential for registrations to become out of date, registrations will be valid for a period of three years, unless withdrawn earlier.

The scheme will apply to telemarketing calls made to an Australian number, whether the call is made from Australia or overseas. The bill allows for penalties to apply to Australian companies making use of overseas telemarketers. While enforcement of telemarketing which does not have a direct Australian link will be more difficult, the bill also makes provision for development of bilateral agreements between countries wishing to stamp out international telemarketing.

Some exemptions are provided for organisations that act in the public interest, such as charities and government, and where businesses have an existing business relationship with customers. This recognises that there are occasions where unsolicited telephone calls fulfil an important social and community role.

The operation of the register will involve cost recovery from the telemarketing industry. While the government will contribute a significant proportion to the initial funding, it is entirely appropriate that the telemarketing industry contribute an increasing proportion of the costs over time.

The bill allows for the making of regulations in a number of areas to provide flexibility in responding to changes in technical delivery of telemarketing and to potential abuse of the intent of provisions. The bill also makes provision for the review of the entire Do Not Call Register scheme after three years of operation.

Operation

Under the legislation the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, will have a number of key roles in the operation and administration of the Do Not Call Register.

ACMA will operate, or outsource to a third party the operation of, the register. The register can list all forms of telephone numbers used primarily for private use. Telemarketers who wish to make telemarketing calls will be required to check their calling lists against the numbers registered on the Do Not Call Register to ensure that they do not contact numbers where the account holder has opted out of receiving telemarketing calls. The details relating to the operation and administration of the register will be provided for by a determination made by ACMA.

ACMA will also respond to complaints relating to the register.

Enforcement

Enforcement of the legislation will also be undertaken by ACMA through a tiered enforcement regime which provides for a scale of penalties ranging from $1,100 up to $1.1 million depending upon the provision breached and the seriousness of the breach.

The enforcement measures available to ACMA include a formal warning, acceptance of an enforceable undertaking, or the issuing of an infringement notice. ACMA may also apply to the Federal Court for an injunction.

Expected benefits

This is a comprehensive scheme to address a problem that affects a large number of Australians. A Do Not Call Register means exactly that: do not call without prior consent.

The telemarketing industry has attempted to address this problem but there are simply too many operators unwilling to raise their standards and too many offshore call centres offering reduced prices and low standards.

The Do Not Call Register arrangements benefit telemarketers—those that are reputable—and consumers.

Consumers will be able to complain to a recognised body and have their complaint dealt with. In this way consumers will be able to reduce the number of unwanted calls they receive in Australia and potentially those from overseas.

Telemarketers will make efficiency gains by not making calls to those who do not wish to receive them; will experience reduced compliance costs from having national standards legislation; and will have a level playing field with all telemarketers bound to high professional standards, rather than have the industry brought into disrepute by rogue operators.

This implementation of a Do Not Call Register is generally supported by the telemarketing industry and undoubtedly by most, if not all, consumers.

Conclusion

This bill will put in place a range of measures that will have the effect of reducing the level of unwanted commercial telemarketing calls. It will provide the public with the ability to take effective action through their registration on the Do Not Call Register. The outcome will be that telephone users will have the ability to control the amount of unwanted calls they receive.

I congratulate the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, for bringing this matter to the parliament. Consumers have long demanded protection from unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls that seem designed to catch them at the most inconvenient and inappropriate time, especially when families are coming together to enjoy evening meals. There can be several intrusions by these telemarketers; they can be persistent and unpleasant experiences. The Do Not Call Register means exactly that: do not call.