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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 46

Mr CIOBO (12:16 PM) —I am pleased to rise to speak on the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006. This legislation is one of those pieces of legislation that makes a very practical and real difference to the lives of Australians. I am certainly pleased that, for residents in my electorate of Moncrieff and more broadly on the Gold Coast, the passage of this legislation will mean that in future they can expect to receive far fewer telemarketing calls than they have received in the past. The Gold Coast has a large number of retired people, both pensioners and self-funded retirees, and I know that, because they are frequently at home where they are often annoyed by telemarketing calls, they would particularly welcome the establishment of the national Do Not Call Register.

In past years, I have done much to convey the concern of constituents who have contacted me about telemarketing calls and, in addition, to highlight to my constituents some of the facilities at their disposal to try to minimise intrusions in their lives from opportunistic telemarketers. In particular, I highlighted the Australian Direct Marketing Association Do Not Call Register, which was established as a private sector initiative—and I congratulate ADMA for their initiative in establishing a private sector Do Not Call Register. I put a large column in my newsletter, which I circulated to the 100,000 or so people in my electorate, highlighting that residents who were concerned about telemarketing intrusions could register their telephone numbers with ADMA. I am pleased to say that the number of people calling me, speaking to me at my community listening posts and coming up to me at shopping centres and highlighting their concern about nuisance telemarketing calls decreased significantly. In fact, many constituents said that they were pleased to use the ADMA service and that they had noticed a considerable drop-off in the number of phone calls following that.

This initiative by the Howard government, though, takes it one step further. Whilst the ADMA Do Not Call Register certainly achieved some success, it was clear that we needed a nationally consistent approach to ensuring that the Australian people need not be bothered by telemarketing calls if they choose not to be. In this respect, I am certainly pleased that this initiative has been undertaken.

The creation of the national Do Not Call Register, which will be free for the Australian people to register with, is something that I most wholeheartedly support and applaud. I know that many residents do not want to receive those intrusive phone calls from telemarketers. Now it will simply be a case of either telephoning or logging onto the internet in order to register your number on the national do not call service, and that service will be free. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will then be required to verify the registration of that phone number, to ensure that someone has not falsely registered someone else on the Do Not Call Register. Once that verification has taken place, by either a telephone call or an email, that phone number will then be listed and will stay on the national Do Not Call Register for a period of three years. This three-year period was decided by the government on reflection.

I am supportive of this decision. It is an appropriate balance between the need to ensure that once a phone number was listed it did not remain on that database forever—because about 17 per cent of Australian households move every year and therefore we did not want phone numbers to be listed forever—and the need for a number to be on the register for a considerable time to ensure that people were not bothered before they needed to reregister with the national Do Not Call Register. I think that we have achieved the appropriate balance by making it a three-year period. A person will register with the national Do Not Call Register and then will not be bothered by telemarketing calls for a period of three years.

There are exemptions in this legislation that will ensure that important research activities can take place and that charities, for example, will still be able to use telemarketing to solicit support. From my conversations with constituents in Moncrieff and the people of the Gold Coast, I believe the vast majority of people are supportive of these exemptions. I understand that people do not like to receive telemarketing calls from private companies that might be selling particular equipment or services, time share or things like that. However, they are often pleased to hear a compelling case from, for example, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross or other charities that run very important social outreach services. In this respect I welcome the exemptions that are incorporated into this legislation.

Likewise, I believe the Australian people in broad terms are supportive of the benefits that flow from important research that is undertaken. Our universities and other private research institutions are often required to survey large numbers of people in order to gain a snapshot of particular attitudes within Australia or, more importantly, particular concerns that Australians may have—for example, concerns about their health. Patterns of behaviour, types of approaches that Australian people take—information about all of these types of attitudinal approaches is gathered by research facilities, universities and private sector research facilities in order to make important determinations about what kinds of drugs or approaches are needed, for example, to make the Australian people more healthy. So it is important to have the exemption for research purposes incorporated into the legislation, and I welcome that exemption as well.

With respect to the costs of establishing the register, I have already outlined that there will be no charge levied upon those who seek to register their home telephone number or mobile telephone number on the Do Not Call Register. The costs associated with the establishment of the register—which will be presided over by the Australian Communications and Media Authority—will be met by the government through the allocation of taxpayers’ money. After that, though, I am pleased that the private sector operators who will access the Do Not Call Register will make the contribution towards the ongoing costs associated with running the Do Not Call Register. I think that is appropriate. It is appropriate that the industry that requires this regulation because it has become such a burden to people in the community is required to pay for its self-regulation. So I want to send a message to those who are listening or those who may be reading through the transcript of this debate that we will be levying those costs on those companies that have required this legislation because of their continuing use of telemarketing services in selling products or services. The costs will not be borne by those who are registering.

In addition, I will just touch on the issue of small businesses. There may be some who are involved in small business who would say, ‘I’d like to be able to register my telephone number on the national Do Not Call Register.’ As the legislation is before the House at present—and my view on this is the same as that of the government—there will not be the opportunity for small businesses to register their numbers. That is because the reality is that most small businesses advertise their phone numbers, for example in the Yellow Pages, and solicit business. As a part of that, often business-to-business contact is made. It would seem to me to be a little unfair for a small business to expect that, in putting their telephone number on marketing material, into the Yellow Pages or perhaps onto the internet, they will not be contacted by other businesses that may be seeking to sell them a particular good or service—and to expect those businesses to be fined or punished as a result of making an unwanted telephone call seeking their business. So in that respect I think an exemption for small business telephone numbers is logical.

However, when it comes to a small home office or a small home business, there will be the opportunity for someone who is working from home to register their home number for that purpose. So someone who is in small business—for example, working out of their study or perhaps even working off the kitchen table, which I know that many small businesses in my electorate do—will be able to register their number. However, it is worth noting that, from time to time, they may receive a phone call from a telemarketer selling them a good or service, because of the fact that they are advertising their phone number widely, for example in the Yellow Pages. When that occurs, I would foresee that ACMA is probably unlikely to take a particularly tough stance against the business that has breached their listing on the Do Not Call Register. I believe that we are now really talking about things that will happen at the margin. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the way in which this will operate.

Most fundamentally, though, when it comes to the national Do Not Call Register, we will see the creation of a register that will prevent people being bothered at home, especially around mealtimes, by telemarketers. It will be free to those people in the community, and I know that they will welcome that. The costs will be borne initially by the government but then subsequently by those who are requiring the regulation—that is, the telemarketers themselves, who will use the list. It will operate so that you are registered for three years; although there will be the opportunity to remove yourself from the list prior to that three-year period if you decide that you want to do so. All up, this is a good bill. It will make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. It is certainly one that I welcome for my residents in Moncrieff, and I commend the legislation to the House.