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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 57

Mr NEVILLE (1:04 PM) —I am pleased to speak to the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006. The creation of the national Do Not Call Register has been warmly welcomed by the general public, and it is very easy to understand why. Australians are sick and tired of being hassled and annoyed by telemarketing phone calls, particularly at meal times and the like. We all appreciate the precious time we have which we need to spend with our families—spending quality time with our loved ones away from the demands of public life is important.

The word ‘home’ evokes notions of peace, tranquillity, privacy and a hassle-free environment. But, all too often, Australians are subjected to aggressive telemarketing tactics and manipulative, pushy salespeople while we are in our own homes. It is not even as if these people announce their presence by knocking on the door; their increasingly frequent method of communication is via the telephone, which they often use anonymously until the receiver engages in conversation with the caller.

I am sure that all members of this House have had constituents contact their offices about telemarketers intruding into their home life. Perhaps the most upsetting stories come from elderly folk, who are often anxious and confused by such phone calls. They are told that they have won this or that prize and they really must act quickly on such and such. Old people find that distressing. Imagine the frustration of an old person having to rise from their chair two, three or four times in an evening to take these calls, and imagine their distress if they subsequently take up an offer just to get the telemarketer off the phone and then find they are committed to some deal which meets neither their needs nor their expectations. The distress, anger and frustration they feel is being rapidly replicated across Australia.

So the establishment of the national Do Not Call Register is good news for Australians. Even better, this service will be provided to them free of charge. The Do Not Call Register is a nationally coordinated solution to the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls. It will apply to all telemarketers operating in Australia as well as to overseas telemarketers who represent Australian companies. Unfortunately, many of these calls from overseas are made on behalf of Australian companies that should know better.

I am heartened by the response of the Australian Direct Marketing Association, which supports this initiative and is prepared to work with the government. It is estimated that through the Do Not Call Register up to 80 per cent of unwanted calls could be filtered out. It will work by giving members of the public the right to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls on both fixed telephone lines and mobiles. They will be able to do so by applying to have their phone numbers recorded on the register, with each individual listing being valid for three years. So, if you change your mind after three years and want the calls back, you can do that. Telemarketers must consult the register before undertaking phone calls and must not call telephone numbers listed on the register.

The establishment of the register will cost around $33 million, with $17 million coming from the government and the remainder of $16 million coming from the telemarketing industry itself. The cost to individual industry players will be ascertained on a usage basis—that is, the bigger telemarketing companies that make more frequent use of the register will pay a higher cost than small businesses which access the register less frequently.

I have previously mentioned that the bill will provide a nationally coordinated approach to the issue. However, we cannot extend its powers to telemarketing operators that do not have a direct Australian link—in other words, those calls that come from overseas directly to our homes, not via an Australian company or Australian products. Despite several attempts by our telemarketing industry to address this problem, there are too many operators unwilling to lift their standards and too many offshore call centres offering reduced prices for their services. To try to overcome that difficulty, the bill makes provision for the development of bilateral agreements between countries wishing to stamp out international telemarketing.

This legislation will establish national minimum contact standards for telemarketers, including permitted calling hours, minimum information requirements and the termination of calls. It will give the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, a range of enforcement options for offenders, including warnings, fines, formal directions and financial penalties for offenders. ACMA will be empowered to enforce the legislation through the tiered enforcement regime, with penalties ranging from $1,100 to $1.1 million, depending on the nature and seriousness of the breach.

Of the 495 submissions made in response to the discussion paper on the creation of a register 90 per cent supported its creation. It is predicted that there will be one million registrations in the first week of operation of the register and up to four million over the first year. This is not surprising given the incredible surge of telemarketing activities in recent years. Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about unsolicited phone calls have increased by 600 per cent in the past year alone. To put it another way: there were 2,135 privacy complaints last year, with the largest number, 887, being about telemarketing.

The telemarketing industry’s growth is also illustrated by the explosion in the employment figures for the sector. According to an ABS labour survey report, in 1996 there 9,400 people working as telemarketers. Compare that figure with the report of January 2005, which stated that the number of people employed in the industry had risen to 15,000—an increase of 62 per cent. Further to that point, the Commercial Economic Advisory Service of Australia recently reported that 1.065 billion telemarketing calls were made from Australia’s 30,000 call centres in 2004. Australians now receive more than one billion telemarketing calls, and I would be fairly confident in saying that most of these calls are unsolicited and, more to the point, unwanted.

In establishing this register we need to find a balance between people’s right to peace and privacy and the necessity for business to promote their wares and services. The employment figures I previously quoted clearly demonstrate that call centres are also providing tremendous job opportunities for Australians. One such call centre was opened by Salmat in Bundaberg in 2003, and it was the first regional site for Salmat’s teleservices in Australia. The call centre generated around 150 jobs for Bundaberg, with its staff handling general sales, billing and new connection inquiries for Telstra, as well as some telemarketing services. The call centre has been a real bonus for Bundaberg and provides our regional centre with benefits not only in contact but also in telecommunications technology and infrastructure.

The sector is also a good employment option for many people seeking to re-enter the workforce or those who require a degree of flexibility, such as students, mothers working part time and single parents. As I previously mentioned, Bundaberg’s Salmat call centre undertakes some telemarketing through its SalesForce Australia operations. I will give a few statistics in order to give some idea of its reach into the public domain. SalesForce Australia operates 3,000 workstations throughout Australia and New Zealand and it uses phone, SMS, email, fax and the internet to liaise with the wider public. Its staff use these technologies to engage in more than 50 million inbound and outbound calls annually in Australia and New Zealand.

We also have to recognise that telemarketing can be a very useful tool when it comes to charity fundraising and providing information of interest to the wider community—

Mr Albanese interjecting

Mr NEVILLE —I was asked to speak until 1.20 pm—hence, the reasonableness of allowing exemptions for certain bodies, including registered charities, religious organisations, educational institutions and, yes, political parties and organisations. Politicians are elected by their constituents to serve the electorate and they are pivotal to our democracy.

Mr Bowen —And to filibuster, obviously.

Mr NEVILLE —I have been accused of some things, but I have never been accused of filibustering. In Australia we have general elections every three years or so, and individuals decide where their vote will go on the strength of the policies and personalities of the local candidates. Communicating with the electorate is time consuming and costly, but it is a necessary part of the job. In order to represent the community effectively, we must be able to exchange information and canvass issues that are important to the community. While we politicians are often lambasted and parodied for our constant pursuit of the electorate, we simply would not be doing our jobs if we failed to do so. If politicians were included on the Do Not Call Register, it would effectively put a barrier—

Mr Albanese —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I take it, from the member for Hinkler’s comments in response to the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006, that the government has an attitude towards the parliament of a ‘do not speak’ bill. The member for Hinkler is deliberately stopping the member for Prospect from making a contribution to this debate, which has been gagged by the government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hatton)—The member for Grayndler has made his point.

Mr NEVILLE —The point I was making was that, if political activity were prevented by the Do Not Call Register, it would effectively put a barrier on constituents and their elected representatives. For that reason, politicians, along with charities, will be permitted to contact people. Nevertheless, politicians and candidates will have to follow an enforced standard that will cover matters such as permitted call hours, the minimum information to be provided to the recipients of calls and the minimum requirements around the termination of calls. This legislation gives people the power to decide whether they want to receive unsolicited telemarketing calls. I urge people in the Hinkler electorate to make use of the register if they are being harassed by unsolicited and unwanted calls. On that note, I commend this legislation to the House.