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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 54

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (12:53 PM) —The Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006 establishing a Do Not Call Register to stamp out unwanted telemarketers have widespread support. It is actually about giving back to the Australian community its right to privacy. It is only a pity we did not have this bill in place long ago. If anything, it ought to be described as the ‘Anna Burke Do Not Call Register bill’, because it was the member for Chisholm who led the campaign on behalf of the Australian community and forced the government’s hand on this very important piece of legislation.

It is for that reason that I suggest to the House that the government cannot take any credit. It was the Labor Party, led by Anna Burke, the member for Chisholm, that delivered an outcome that, whilst not perfect, represents a major step forward in returning to the Australian community their right to privacy.

It has taken the very tactics of the telemarketers themselves to get the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan, to listen to the concerns of the Australian community. The minister, and the record shows it, has been bombarded by those opposed to telemarketing calls, literally pleading for her to do something—to actually get off her backside and bring forward legislation that assists the Australian community. One householder emailed her office begging her to do something. She wrote:

Please, please do something NOW! There is way too much stress in this busy world of ours without adding to it with this ‘tele terrorist’ activity.

That sums up why this legislation is important. This was just one of the submissions and views from individuals that bombarded the minister’s office. Another wrote:

It is the most pervasive change for the worse in over a century of public telephony.

This virtual home invasion plague must be suppressed—our home is not the market.

Another angry householder wrote:

They are a curse on society—even profanity doesn’t stop them.

In my electorate of Batman I have been inundated by constituents complaining about the invasion of their privacy through telemarketing calls. For example, Reservoir resident Jannette Shannon has been receiving calls from telemarketers twice a day, up to four times a week and at all hours of the night. You can imagine the impact that has on elderly citizens. That is just one person. Taken nationally you can understand that Australians receive more than a billion unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. And it is getting worse—we all appreciate that from talking to our own constituents.

I understand the desperate requirements of some workers in these centres to actually try to turn a dollar. They are employed to do this and are expected to make a certain number of calls a day. This is not for high wages; it is just to try and make ends meet and to look after their families. This is not a criticism of these poor workers; this is a criticism of the people who set up these companies—the owners and those who profit from invading ordinary Australian people’s privacy.

These calls are not only a nuisance. I understand why ordinary people are getting angry. They have had enough. They have also had enough of the lack of government action. This anger is especially amongst our elderly people, because when the phone rings they always expect the worst. They are not used to frequent phone calls other than from family members and close friends. When they get these calls at all times of the day and night, their alarm bells go off and it causes them serious concern and angst. The message to these companies is: back off!

This legislation is part of the solution. Unfortunately the anger and worry of these people has for too long been prolonged by the government dragging its feet. In 2004, the then communications minister, Daryl Williams, dismissed the Labor Party’s call for a national do not call list based on the US model. How did he dismiss it? He said that it was populist, arguing that it would not work in Australia. We have finally got some legislation. The opposition actually ran a community campaign. At the head of that campaign was the member for Chisholm, Anna Burke, who unfortunately cannot be here to see the end result of her national campaign, which started in the seat of Chisholm in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I hope that the member for Deakin, her neighbour electorally, gives her some credit, because he is following her, supporting her legislation. He ought to give the member for Chisholm, despite the fact that she is a member of the Labor Party, the credit for a terrific outcome.

That reminds me that last year she was not given any credit or support. The member for Chisholm last year sought to introduce a private member’s bill into the House to establish a Do Not Call Register. It was the Howard government that rejected such a proposition, because it represented a serious embarrassment to them for their lack of attention to this very important issue.

But we finally have a bill that is about giving people some privacy back. They have been crying out for it for far too long. It will enable them to lock their doors and close their windows and cut off the invasion of privacy which comes through the telephone line. But more should have been done. The discussion paper was completely unnecessary. We knew what the problem was. Why wasn’t it fixed? It is inconceivable that Senator Coonan failed to hear the growing tide of complaints over the issue. She just had to listen to those complaints. She should have addressed them much earlier, in the same way in which the previous minister for communications, Daryl Williams, should have addressed them back in the last parliament.

For example, last year Australians received 53 telemarketing calls per week on average, and that does not include the millions of calls coming from overseas. This equates to Australians spending almost half an hour each week fielding unwarranted calls. Unfortunately, the Australian Direct Marketing Association’s list only covers the 500 members in Australia. Whilst the opposition welcomes the ADMA efforts, such a limited service means that these measures are not totally effective. In particular, many companies which operate from overseas are not covered.

I suggest to the Australian community that, when you get a call from overseas, say, ‘Just a minute,’ put the phone down, walk away and let the time add up. Let the cost add up and teach them a lesson. There is only one way to teach them a lesson, and that is when it hits them in the hip pocket. Whilst we have not done enough to protect the Australian community from overseas telemarketing invasions, maybe the people can stand up and frustrate these groups by allowing the costs to run up when calls come in from overseas. Hit them where it hurts.

At least the frustration of the Australian community over this issue has finally been heard. The number of people requesting the ADMA service has doubled to almost 320,000 in the last 12 months. So, rather than talk, obfuscate and delay with a discussion paper, Senator Coonan should simply have acted long ago by listening to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have had a gutful and given them back their privacy. After years of campaigning, finally we will have a Do Not Call Register. Clearly this vindicates the member for Chisholm. She has done her job not only on behalf of her constituents in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne but also on behalf of all Australians. Throughout the length and breadth of Australia, this is a great achievement by the member for Chisholm, with the support of the opposition, the Australian Labor Party.

We all knew that at the core of this issue was people’s privacy. Legislation exists with respect to people’s privacy and access to information provided to government. That is important legislation, but this register is also about giving people privacy and stopping interference in their lives by the invasion of their homes by telemarketing systems. The argument comes down to one person’s right over another, and I do not believe that a person’s right to do a job should be at the expense of another person’s privacy. The argument being pursued by some people at the moment is a falsehood. I understand the importance of respecting the workers who work for telemarketing organisations, but in the end it is our privacy. We are talking about an industry in its infancy, one that is still evolving. Indeed, the evidence does not support this argument. The key point here is privacy and respecting every person’s right to it. Now that we have waited for this bill for the past two years we learn that, unfortunately, we will have to wait until 2007 for the register to be established. For the benefit of families, Senator Coonan should respond to the Australian public and implement this legislation sooner rather than later.

I say to the Australian community: unfortunately, this legislation really is not important to the Howard government, because it has guillotined debate on the bill today. Yet again, we are not permitted to express the views of our constituents in this House and put their concerns on the record. The government does not want to listen. It has moved a guillotine motion to stop debate in the House, so I think it is fair to ask: after more than two years of loud campaigning on this issue, why do Australians have to wait another year?

I end by reminding the House that this delay and the failure to deliver relief on this issue is yet another example of arrogance by a tired and complacent government that guillotines debate on important measures day after day, not only on the Do Not Call Register but also on consideration of fuel tax measures and the importance of promoting the biofuels industry in Australia. People ought to look at the record of the parliament over the last couple of years. I understand from the smile on the face of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs that he thinks it is a joke to take away the right of the Australian community’s representatives to debate in this House. He stands condemned for his very arrogant attitude to the right of people’s representatives to argue out their concerns in the House. I say to the parliamentary secretary: wipe that smile off your face; the Australian community understands completely the arrogance and disrespect of the Howard government towards their concerns. I commend the bill to the House.