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
Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 40

Dr WASHER (11:53 AM) —The Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 sets up a scheme to enable individuals who have an Australian number to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls. The use of the telephone as a sales tool dates back as far as the early 1900s. That is not bad, considering it was only invented around 1854 by Antonio Meucci—or, if you are a Canadian, in 1875 by Alexander Bell. In Australia, however, it was not until the 1980s that telemarketing techniques became more refined and incorporated into the marketing strategies of businesses of all sizes. In 1996 there were 9,400 people employed as telemarketers. By 2006 this increased to an estimated 250,000. Even though only a very small percentage of calls are successful, telemarketing is still an extremely lucrative part of the marketing mix for many companies. With around 1.065 billion telemarketing calls being made each year from Australia’s 30,000-odd call centres, this adds up to significant sales figures. In 2002 the industry was estimated to be generating around $10 billion per year. With technologies such as voice over internet protocol, the number of calls is only expected to increase. In fact, the Australian Direct Marketing Association states that the telemarketing industry is currently growing at a rate of 17 per cent per year.

Such success for business is fantastic. However, there is a down side: those hundreds of millions of receivers who are not interested. These people often feel harassed and intimidated in their own homes. Telemarketers are calling too often, late at night or during meal times and they are far too pushy. Some people have even felt pressured into purchasing products they did not want. When submissions on a discussion paper on the Do Not Call Register were called for, more than 90 per cent of responses were in favour. The message was clear—people wanted their privacy back. People have come up with many ways of attempting to avoid the telemarketing calls. Methods such as caller ID, answering machines and voicemail can be used to screen calls. One novel device is the TeleZapper. Most call centres use a special piece of software known as an autodialler, which calls several numbers simultaneously. When you answer, the autodialler quickly connects you to an operator. The TeleZapper foils the autodialler by issuing a tone that causes the autodialler to think the number is out of service and it does not dial the number again.

A much easier and cheaper way for people is the establishment of a Do Not Call Register, which the bill proposes. Individuals who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls can place their home and mobile phone numbers on this register. Telemarketers will be required to check their calling lists against those numbers registered to ensure that they are not contacting those individuals. If they do contact these people, they will face a substantial financial penalty. Individuals will not be required to pay for registering their phone numbers. The operational costs of the scheme will be covered predominately by the telemarketing industry itself. Telemarketers will be required to pay for access to the register in the form of fees for access. The proposed fee structure will be apportioned on the basis of usage of the register. This will result in lower costs for smaller businesses that use the register less frequently. The government will fund the regulatory costs and contribute to the establishment costs and some ongoing operational costs. The scheme will be administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which will have the option to either run or tender out the operation of the Do Not Call Register. It will establish the operational requirements for the register and enforce the scheme.

As around 17 per cent of the population move house each year, it was decided that each number would remain on the register for three years. As a result, the register should be fairly accurate, without individuals having to re-register every year. There are some organisations which will be exempted from the scheme. These are organisations that operate in the public interest such as government bodies, like the police force; registered political parties; members of parliament and nominated political candidates; religious organisations; charities; and, in some circumstances, educational institutions. Consumers can also consent to a particular telemarketing call. For example, if you have entered a competition, this would not in itself be sufficient to establish a relationship that infers consent to receiving future telemarketing calls from the organisation involved. If, however, you have specifically ticked a box as part of the entry form requesting future contact, then this is express consent. The duration of this express consent is three months unless indicated otherwise.

The general level of annoyance over telemarketing is perhaps exacerbated to some extent by the lack of unified policy and regulation surrounding telemarketing activity. Currently there is no central agency to address telemarketing complaints and there is confusion for both agencies that use telemarketing practices and consumers on respective obligations and rights. The bill is accompanied by the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006, which makes various amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 and the Telecommunications (Carrier Licence Charges) Act 1997. These amendments provide a regulatory framework for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to investigate complaints relating to telemarketing calls and to enforce the scheme. Enforcement arrangements will include infringement notices, formal warnings, injunctions, penalties and court actions, with penalties ranging from $1,000 up to $1.1 million, depending on the seriousness of the breach.

The amendments also enable the development of industry codes and standards relating to telemarketing calls. These standards must be adhered to by all telemarketers, including those exempt from the Do Not Call Register. The standards will cover matters such as permitted calling hours, minimum information to be provided to recipients of calls and minimum requirements surrounding termination of calls. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will consult with specified bodies to set out these detailed rules of conduct.

The current rules governing telemarketing practices are contained in various instruments, including voluntary codes developed by industry, state and territory legislation and Commonwealth law. For example, the main telemarketing industry body, the Australian Direct Marketing Association, has developed a do not contact register and direct marketing code of practice. In fact, over 113,000 Australians have put their names on this do not contact register. However, the 20 per cent of telemarketers who are not members of the association are not restrained from calling numbers on this list, and the association has no enforcement authority on those who do not stick to the code. The Australian Direct Marketing Association is in favour of this bill, as it will enforce many aspects that it has tried to bring into the industry. The industry will become more efficient by preventing unnecessary calls to those who will simply hang up and creating a level playing field requiring all telemarketers to adhere to professional standards.

What about overseas telemarketers? The Do Not Call Register will apply to these calls also. If they are being made on behalf of an Australian company, action will be taken against that company. If there is no presence in Australia, the legislation will still apply. For this reason, the government recognises the importance of cooperating with other countries and of developing bilateral and multilateral arrangements to help move more effectively towards global enforcement of telemarketing. The UK is currently investigating international agreement options in this respect. An anonymous submission into the Do Not Call Register discussion paper stated:

We long for a time when phone calls were a source of pleasure.

The Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 will go a long way in helping to achieve this goal.