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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 61

Mr PEARCE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (1:20 PM) —I want to thank all members for their contributions to the debate on these important pieces of legislation—the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and the Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006—and I am pleased to note the broad support they have from members in the chamber. Many members have shared their own experiences as recipients of telemarketing calls and members have agreed that this legislation is clearly a win for the community.

Mr Bowen interjecting

Mr PEARCE —We have heard more than enough from the member for Bowen. The Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and consequential amendments—

Ms Macklin interjecting

Mr PEARCE —Yes, I know that—provide a direct response to community concerns about unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls. The number of unsolicited calls in Australia has grown significantly in recent years. This has led to rising community concerns about the inconvenience and intrusiveness of telemarketing. The government is addressing these concerns by giving Australian phone users the right to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls and by creating a more consistent and efficient operating environment for the telemarketing industry. The telemarketing industry itself has called for action. The rules governing telemarketing practices are contained in various instruments, including voluntary codes, state and territory legislation and Commonwealth law. This fragmented and sometimes inconsistent approach has led to calls from industry organisations such as the Australian Direct Marketing Association for the government to address the issue. This is needed to provide telemarketers with more operational certainty and consumers with more effective complaint-handling mechanisms. Currently, there is no single body with which consumers can register a complaint.

Under the arrangements set out in the bills, a national Do Not Call Register and telemarketing conduct standards would be established. People who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls would have the option of applying for their fixed and mobile numbers to be recorded on the register. Once a number is recorded, it will be prohibited for telemarketers to contact that number except in specified circumstances. The scheme would apply to telemarketing calls made within Australia and to calls originating from overseas. Some exemptions are provided for organisations that act in the public interest, such as charities, religious organisations, educational institutions and government.

The beneficial nature of the activities of these groups has led to their exemption from the prohibition on telemarketing numbers on the Do Not Call Register in order to ensure that there are no unexpected or untoward impacts on the sector. However, it is important to note that activities in these sectors will be subject to the national standards to be established by ACMA regarding permitted calling hours, information that callers must provide about their organisation and termination of calls.

This is a comprehensive scheme to address a problem that affects a large number of Australians. The telemarketing industry has attempted to address this problem, but there are simply too many operators unwilling to raise their standards and too many offshore call centres offering reduced prices and low standards. The Do Not Call Register arrangements benefit telemarketers and individuals. Individuals will be able to take effective action against unsolicited telemarketing calls through registering on the Do Not Call Register and will be able to complain to a recognised body if the requirements are not complied with.

Telemarketers will enjoy efficiency gains by not making calls to those who do not wish to receive them. They will experience reduced compliance costs from having national standards legislation and will have a level playing field with all telemarketers bound to high professional standards rather than having the industry brought into disrepute by rogue operators.

Drafting the bills has been a delicate balancing act. We must balance the legitimate needs of business and the concerns of the community. I think the bill hits the right targets. The bill has flexible sanctions and an enforcement regime which extends from formal warnings to infringement notices through to significant financial penalties for repeat offences, and it has an appropriately short review time frame of three years.

I note that Labor has welcomed the bulk of the provisions. The member for Hunter has raised concerns about certain things and, particularly as one relates to small business not being on the register, I welcome the opportunity to explain the government’s reason for this. The reason is really very simple: many small businesses advertise their telephone number for the purposes of gaining business. Business-to-business contact, for a multitude of reasons, happens in the course of day-to-day operations. The government was concerned not to potentially expose organisations to fines and penalties for ordinary business-to-business conduct. In addition, there would be a very practical problem for businesses seeking to contact other businesses. I note, too, that a number of Labor members were critical of the time it has taken to reach this point. Let me be clear. Developing good public policy, which is something the Labor Party is not used to, does take time. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hatton)—Order! The parliamentary secretary is gagged, as everyone else was. The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hunter has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.