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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 12975


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (9:47 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 amends the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Telecommunications Act 1997. Under the bill, the Do Not Call Register will be expanded to enable all Australian numbers to be registered.

While telemarketing and fax marketing are legitimate methods by which businesses can market their services, the Australian government is concerned that the rate of unsolicited marketing faxes has grown in recent years. As a result, there have been rising community concerns about the inconvenience and intrusiveness of telemarketing and fax marketing on Australians. In response to these concerns, this bill will extend the register to enable all persons—including individuals, businesses, government and organisations—to express their preference not to receive telemarketing calls or marketing faxes.

The Do Not Call Register Act was introduced in 2006 in response to community concerns about unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls.

In May 2007, when the act came into effect, an impressive one million Australians listed their private fixed line, mobile, voice-over IP or satellite numbers on the Do Not Call Register. To date, 3.8 million people have registered their details on the register. This means that approximately one in three Australian households have opted out of receiving telemarketing calls.

The success of the register is demonstrated by the declining level of complaints regarding potential breaches of the act. From May 2008 to May 2009 the Australian Communications and Media Authority received 12,057 complaints, which represented a 60 per cent drop from the May 2007 to May 2008 figure of 30,060 complaints.

However, there have been many concerns raised about the restrictions on the types of numbers that can be listed on the register. Under the existing provisions, business numbers, emergency service numbers and fax numbers are ineligible for inclusion on the register. As a consequence, businesses, particularly small businesses, have raised concerns about the losses in productivity caused by responding to unsolicited telemarketing calls.

The receipt of telemarketing calls by emergency service organisations has also been a real issue of concern, as these calls may potentially impact on emergency service responses. Emergency service operators have advised the government that responding to telemarketing calls can delay the answering of genuine emergency calls. Telemarketers are bypassing emergency numbers such as 000 and directly contacting emergency service operators such as the fire brigade through the use of predictive dialling equipment. These calls divert emergency resources while the telemarketing calls are being answered.

There have also been concerns raised by fax owners that the register does not allow them to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial faxes. Much of the cost of a marketing fax is transferred to the recipient in lost time, productivity and the tying up of telecommunications equipment, as well as the additional cost of consumables such as ink and paper.

In August 2008 the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy issued a discussion paper that raised these issues. A large majority of respondents—86 per cent—supported allowing the registration of all Australian telephone and fax numbers, including business and emergency numbers.

In response to these concerns and submissions to the discussion paper, the government announced in the 2009-10 budget that the register will be extended to allow the registration of all Australian telephone and fax numbers, including those used by businesses and emergency services.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Telecommunications Act 1997 to give all individuals, businesses, government agencies, emergency service operators and other organisations the choice of whether they wish to receive unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes.

Outline of amendments

The bill enables all Australian telephone and fax numbers to be registered on the Do Not Call Register. This will allow organisations as well as individuals to access the protections of the register.

The bill will make an allowance for businesses (large and small) and other organisations to list their telephone and fax numbers on the register. This change is not intended to impinge on business-to-business communications which are an important part of everyday business activity. Businesses can still contact other businesses with whom they have a relationship under the current inferred consent provisions. Businesses that have given express consent to receive calls or faxes may also continue to be contacted. However, ‘cold calls’ and marketing faxes to businesses that do not fall under the express or inferred consent provisions in the act will be prohibited for numbers that are listed on the Do Not Call Register.

There have been concerns that extending the register to business numbers will limit competition and stifle innovation. To address these concerns, the bill contains an additional consent mechanism that allows businesses to list their number on the register and continue to receive telemarketing calls or marketing faxes relating to specific industry classifications. As a part of the registration process, new registrants will be provided with the option to nominate to receive calls or faxes relating to a list of industry classifications.

The default position will continue to be that registrants are opting out of telemarketing calls and marketing faxes.

It is anticipated that this ‘nomination’ option will be available to anyone who lists a number on the register after it comes into effect, in the second half of 2010. It allows marketers to continue contacting individuals or businesses that have expressed an interest in hearing about the products or services in their industry classification. The nomination process also extends the choice available to consumers currently listed on the register, as it allows them to tailor their registration.

Provisions in the bill prohibit marketing faxes from being sent to a number on the Do Not Call Register. The bill also provides the Australian Communications and Media Authority with the power to make a fax marketing industry standard to place restrictions on the sending of marketing faxes, such as specifying certain times of day when faxes can be sent. This will provide additional consumer protections and will assist business recipients to more efficiently manage their communications.

Expected benefits

The amendments in this bill will benefit those organisations that currently experience losses in productivity or other expenses by prohibiting unsolicited marketing calls or faxes.

This change may also assist the telemarketing and fax marketing industries in targeting their campaigns to those recipients who are more likely to respond positively to their representations. Consultation with key stakeholders indicated a preference for the proposed new consent provision, which enables registrants to nominate a limited range of industry sectors about which they would wish to continue to receive telemarketing calls and marketing faxes. For small businesses in particular, this model will only allow relevant and targeted marketing faxes or calls. It will prevent the interruptions caused by unsolicited or unwanted telemarketing calls or faxes in businesses that cannot afford to waste time dealing with them.

Extending the nomination model to all registrants on the register—including businesses and consumers—gives them the ability to receive calls they would like to receive, and reject those that they do not want. This is an improvement on the current register that operates as an ‘all or nothing’ scheme.

Compliance costs

There are expected to be some compliance costs for business-to-business telemarketers and fax marketers who have not previously been required to use the register. However, these compliance costs are expected to be in line with the costs that telemarketers incurred with the introduction of the original Do Not Call Register and are not expected to be large. For example, the current cost to check 20,000 numbers against the register is $78 per year. A 2008 independent study conducted by the call centre industry found that 90 per cent of call centres surveyed experienced no change in gross revenues following the introduction of the original register, and none experienced decreased gross revenues.

Funding

The government recognises that the telemarketing industry will quite legitimately need some time to make necessary adjustments before these proposed changes come into effect. That is why the bill proposes that the changes to the Do Not Call Register will come into effect six months after the bill receives royal assent.

The government will provide funding of $4.7 million over four years to make the necessary changes to the scheme. Of this amount, approximately $3.5 million over four years will be recovered from the telemarketing and fax marketing industries through fees paid to access the register to cover its operational costs. This is consistent with the government’s election commitment that industry will bear the full direct costs of the register. The remaining $1.2 million will come from a reallocation of resources within the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio.

Conclusion

This bill will put in place a range of measures that will provide all Australians with equal access to the Do Not Call Register. Businesses have long demanded inclusion on the Do Not Call Register and this bill will allow them to join the 3.8 million Australian households already receiving protection from unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls.

I thank the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, for bringing this important matter and reform to the parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lindsay) adjourned.