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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 33

Mr CADMAN (11:24 AM) —A Do Not Call Register is really a database with a list of names and numbers of people who do not want to have unsolicited calls. I think the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006 are going to be welcomed by many Australians. In my electorate office I have had many calls from people. Those who are disabled, the elderly and those who are on their own are the key callers who hate the interruptions and the inconvenience—not of having a meal disturbed but of having to answer a phone which may be an emergency call or a call from a relative seeking their support or assistance. The elderly and infirm are always conscientious in answering phones.

The register will be established and it will be for private owners. The previous speaker from the Australian Labor Party, Mr Fitzgibbon, raises the problems of small business. I think it is a fairly easily deduced differential the government is placing here in the legislation of public and private use—the publicly advertised telephone numbers of a small business compared to the private use of an individual. The government has made that separation and I think it is a perfectly reasonable separation. It is okay to speculate that not all business phones can be easily separated from private use. That may be the case, but if a phone is publicly advertised as a business number and the normal hours of contact are between nine and five or between seven and seven then access should be granted to those publicly available phone numbers.

Direct marketers are really competing in what is called the attention economy. They want to grab attention. The process of direct marketing by telephone is like spam: they hope that, by making a certain number of hits at very low cost per contact, they are going to be able to pick up the attention of somebody they are calling and get a market response from them—something they can use, perhaps not in that call, but that can be stored and used at a future time. There is a feeling amongst marketers that consumers may be more receptive if they are at home and contacted by a personal call rather than by print or by television advertising. So it is a more personal type of advertising. No doubt it would not be continued if there were no gain from the process. It is just like spam: if they hit enough people, the marketers may get a response.

It is often said that the inconvenience of these calls is small and that this proposal should not go ahead. In the United States currently there are approximately 10 calls per day per telephone subscriber marketing through this direct calling process. In Australia I understand the figure is about two calls per day on average. We have got a long way to go to reach the numbers in the United States. The concerns being expressed by the Australian community justify the steps the government is taking.

Most reputable organisations in fact keep a list of those who prefer not to be called, but then that just leaves the door open for the disreputable or the overseas contractor to be able to use a direct marketing process straight to the home of the elderly or the disabled. Therefore, the government has chosen to take a step to address this. Not everybody in this field is reputable. Not everybody is going to have their own database and set aside an in-house process where calls are not made. The Do Not Call Register will be limited to basically private telephones, and that is the way it should be. Publicly listed phones available for business should be open to direct marketing.

Is this a problem elsewhere? Canada is in the process of introducing similar legislation and the UK and the USA have done so already. It is understood that there are 90 million people registered with the US Federal Trade Commission on the National Do Not Call Registry. Ninety million Americans have said, ‘We don’t want direct marketing through our telephones.’

I am indebted to Caslon Analytics Ltd for providing some of the statistics for this industry. The most common cause for complaint by direct marketers is that there will be job losses. Enough people have had calls from outside Australia to know that the job losses will not necessarily be Australian. I understand that the turnover in this industry is about 300 per cent per annum—so the average person holds a job in this industry for approximately four months. So the industry could hardly be termed a permanent place of employment. Not only that, but it is hardly considered to be an entry point to the IT industry. Students—all sorts of people—will pick up a casual job in a call centre and they will stay for only a short time. This is not an industry that holds a big future for them, with big prospects for advancement and long-term employment.

I draw the government’s attention to voice over internet and the problems it will create. I predict that the use of VoIP rather than the direct telephone line will be the next avenue used by direct marketers. Voice over internet will be very difficult to manage, in my opinion—it will be very difficult to control for the group of marketers who switch to it.

This legislation is something that the government has done well. I compliment the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator the Hon. Helen Coonan, on its introduction. The Australian community welcomes it. I am sure many constituents of mine will take advantage of the Do Not Call Register so that there will be a chance for them to say they do not wish to have calls. A registration process will be established, and the cost of the register will be borne, on a cost recovery basis, by the telemarketing industry.

From the telemarketing industry’s point of view there will be considerable advantages to the register because there will be a reduction in the number of wasted calls. The 90 million callers who have subscribed to the National Do Not Call Registry in the United States alone must indicate the magnitude of the number of people who do not wish to be bothered by direct marketing schemes. This alone will be a significant saving to direct marketers. The penalties under this program range from $1,100 to $1.1 million, depending on the provisions breached and the seriousness of the breach. But Australians will welcome the register because it applies not only to direct call marketers within Australia but also to those confounded international calls, where it is obvious that the caller has been well schooled but is not living in Australia. These calls are a complete irritant to many of their recipients.

I know that the telemarketing industry has tried to address this problem. There have been a number of attempts to have a voluntary code of conduct and solve the problem, but telemarketing is a very entrepreneurial marketing process, and people are very inventive in the way they approach the marketing techniques they have adopted. So it is necessary to legislate. There are just too many operators unwilling to lift their standards or to change the way they do things. Consumers will be able to complain if the process is not working. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, as it is now called, will be administering the program, so they will take charge of any complaints. There will be a level playing field for all telemarketers. The register will be valued by the Australian community.

I have received a few calls within the last few weeks from an elderly lady living on her own in a retirement village. She was very unhappy to have received six telemarketing calls in a very short time as she depends on calls from a close relative to report that relative’s state of health. She was worried about that person but got confounded calls coming in from people who just annoy and harass her. She is not in the state of mind physically or mentally to be able to cope with that sort of marketing and rang my office on a number of occasions, three days in a row, distressed by the calls she had received.

Another gentleman, a Mr Bond, has been calling my office, saying, ‘However do these telemarketers get my silent number?’ Telemarketing involves a casual process of dialling, often computer generated, where the marketers are going to pick up silent numbers. This gentleman will now be free of those concerns. So two people who have notified me about this problem recently will welcome this system. Telstra have been helpful. I pay tribute to Wayne Rose of Telstra for the offer of help he has given to both these people. But now they will be set free of this problem. They will register and they will not get the calls.