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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3257

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (1:22 PM) —I am sure there are many of us here who have experienced telemarketers calling or at least know someone who has. We hear the stories of how annoying telemarketing companies call your home just on dinnertime or just when you are putting the kids to bed or the baby in the bath. We might be familiar with some of the comebacks that people have used to try to get these pesky telemarketers not to call again, such as the one where you repeat everything they say and, when they ask why you are doing that, you say you are training to be a telemarketer. There is the other one where you say: ‘Hold on. Could you speak a little slowly? I need to write all of these things down.’ I could have fun with this topic all day. I speak in support of the Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009, and I point out that there are some very serious sides to this subject.

The bill amends the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 to enable the registration of all Australian telephone and fax numbers, including emergency service numbers. The bill introduces regulation of unsolicited fax marketing by prohibiting the sending of a marketing fax to a number on the Do Not Call Register. The Do Not Call Register, as first introduced, did not protect fax users. While business numbers are now subject to further consultation, that is an important area that we still need to pursue. Also, it did not include emergency services organisations.

It has been a particular concern of the government that unwanted and unsolicited calls and faxes are wasting valuable business resources and could potentially affect the operation of emergency service organisations. So those annoying telemarketing and similar phone calls that some of us can often brush off with clever comebacks can actually affect, for example, the performance of small business. Contrary to the contribution of the shadow spokesperson on communications, these are issues that we genuinely need to talk about with respect to small businesses and how we can assist them in stopping unwanted telephone calls that affect their business.

During public consultation undertaken by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, submissions noted the impact of unsolicited telemarketing and fax marketing on businesses—particularly small businesses—through the loss of time, toner and paper and productivity. Also during this consultation there were good indications that approximately 86 per cent of respondents supported the extension of the register to all telephone and fax numbers.

In my beautiful electorate of Dobell on the New South Wales Central Coast, I am sure there has been many a telemarketing call made to individuals and small businesses. Small businesses are what make the Central Coast economy tick. It is important that we continue to look at this issue in relation to small business. Receiving unwanted and unsolicited phone calls could be most unwelcome and unproductive for businesses. You can imagine what a takeaway shop owner would feel like if a telemarketing call came through during the peak time of lunch, when they were trying to serve people and conduct their business, or what a flower shop operator on Valentine’s Day would feel if they were receiving calls from a telemarketer on something in which they had no interest. So we really do need to look at this and make sure that it is addressed properly.

The Do Not Call Register Act 2006 was introduced in May 2007 to enable individuals to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls by listing their fixed line or mobile numbers—used primarily for private or domestic purposes—on the Do Not Call Register. In response to concerns raised about restrictions on the types of numbers that could be listed on the register, a departmental discussion paper was released on 15 August 2008 seeking community views on whether all telephone and fax numbers should be eligible for inclusion on the register. As I have outlined, submissions to the discussion paper indicated that the majority of respondents supported the inclusion of all telephone and fax numbers. The submissions to the discussion paper and representations made directly to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy indicated that businesses, particularly small businesses, would like to be able to receive the protections available under the register. In addition, the Emergency Call Service Advisory Committee raised concerns over the potential for telemarketing calls to adversely affect the operations of emergency service organisations and their ability to respond to genuine emergency calls.

The bill amends the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 to enable the registration of fax numbers and particular emergency service numbers. The extension of the register to these Australian numbers avoids uncertainty by consumers or the telemarketing and fax marketing industries about who is eligible and avoids the need for complicated eligibility requirements. The bill provides all new registrants with the option to choose specific industry classifications that they wish to receive calls and faxes about. Marketers will be able to access these choices when they check their contact lists against the register and will be able to make a telemarketing call or send a marketing fax if it relates to an activity covered by an industry classification about which a registrant has chosen to receive calls or faxes. This mechanism has the benefit of allowing registrants to adapt their registration to their needs by selecting calls and faxes that are wanted and relevant. This will be of particular benefit to making sure that types of calls and faxes received are ones that you actually want to receive and do not affect your business or cause an imposition in unwanted telephone calls or faxes.

The default position will continue to be that registrants opt out of all telemarketing calls and marketing faxes. A registrant will be able to take positive action to opt in to receive certain types of marketing calls and marketing faxes. It is proposed that the amendments will apply to all registrants, extending the options currently available to consumers. In addition, this will provide more opportunities for telemarketers and fax marketers to call numbers on the register and potentially target their calls more effectively to interested recipients.

In addition, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will have the ability to make a legislative instrument setting out the circumstances in which consent can be inferred to make a telemarketing call or to send a marketing fax to a number that is on the register. A number of consequential amendments will also be made to the Telecommunications Act 1997. One of these will be to give the ACMA the power to make an industry standard relating to the fax marketing industry. There are time constraints in relation to this bill so that we can get it through. It is important that this bill can pass and the process can be amended as quickly as possible. I have never had the chance myself to use one of those smart answers to a telemarketer, but I am sure that the changes to the Do Not Call Register will mean that people who do not want to receive those calls will not have to have those smart answers in the future because they will be able to ensure that they do not receive faxes or phone calls that they do not want. I commend the bill to the House.