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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3260

Mr SYMON (1:38 PM) —I speak in support of the Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009. It was interesting to listen to the member for Lyne talk about many of the same things I am now going to. It is good to see there is widespread concern in the community. This bill makes important and useful changes to the existing Do Not Call Register Act 2006. It also contains consequential amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 in relation to fax marketing.

Many people contact my office in relation to unwanted marketing and other junk calls and the existing Do Not Call Register is a very useful service. Although it only applies to private and residential phone lines at present, the number of people who contact my office about what I call junk calls—calls that they do not want—is enormous. And many of them actually do not know of the service, so it is always good to be able to direct them to it. Most people who are referred to the Do Not Call Register are satisfied with the drop off in marketing calls, although I still receive regular reports of rogue operators ignoring the restriction. Rogue operators seem to be more prevalent from overseas call centres, particularly India, who do not always follow the restrictions we have on that form of contact here, and that is something that needs to be addressed in the future.

The existing Do Not Call Register Act has a registration period of three years for a residential or private phone number. There are now more than four million fixed line and mobile phone numbers registered on the Do Not Call Register as more and more people have become aware of the benefits. As other members have said in this debate, there is nothing worse than being annoyed by a junk phone call when you are at home with the family, trying to get inner ready, trying to put the kids to bed—or, even as I have had happened to me, walking in the door with several bags of shopping and trying to get the door open, having the phone ring, dropping everything and running in to find out it is someone I have never heard of before selling a product I do not want.

As the Do Not Call Register will reach its third anniversary at the end of this month—that is, May—many people who registered in 2007 are at risk of dropping off the Do Not Call Register unless they reregister their telephone number. One of the intentions of this bill before the House is to change that. Up until now more than 40 per cent of people who had registered in 2007, at the start of the scheme, had reregistered as at the end of April, but that leaves the other 60 per cent to find out that they have dropped off the list when they start getting calls again.

A provision of this amendment bill is to provide the minister with the power to make a determination to set the period of registration. It is intended that the initial determination will extend the registration period from three years to five years. Of course, those people who registered three years ago will now not be put in that position where they suddenly get those unwanted calls out of the blue, as it were. Importantly, this will also apply to those who are already on the Do Not Call Register, with the effect that phone customers who would have dropped off the register at the end of this month will now have another two years of less interrupted dinner times. I think everyone should be happy about that. And if this does not go through in time, by 31 May, there is also provision to reinstate any registrations that have already expired.

This bill also contains an extension of the scope of the Do Not Call Register to cover emergency service and government telephone numbers. When the bill was first put before the House last year it also had an exemption for businesses, which I understand is now not to be included due to opposition concerns. Having said that, I have had many small businesses contact me about telemarketing calls, about unwanted junk calls and about faxes. This has been particularly from microbusinesses, one or two person businesses, who have to have a fax—an essential tool for all businesses—but who do not like the expense or the wasted time, again, in getting information about things they do not want. This change, in relation to emergency services particularly, will remove the potential that unwanted marketing calls may have of affecting the operation of emergency service organisations.

This bill also contains provisions that will allow for all fax numbers to be registered on the do-not-call register. That does include businesses. So individuals, businesses, community and volunteer organisation will all be able to register their fax numbers so as they no longer receive piles of what I like to call junk faxes—what other people might call marketing faxes. It is bad enough receiving spurious information that has not been asked for but it is even worse when it comes at a cost to a household, small business or community organisation’s budget. There is the cost of paper that, in most cases, goes unread into the bin. Then there is the cost of ink cartridges or toner. Even a few faxes per day will soon cause an inkjet fax machine to run dry and that is when the cost hits home. If you wander down to your local Officeworks store or other supplier to buy an ink cartridge you find that they start at about $20, and that depends on the brand and type of fax machine that you have. They are very small. They do not last long; they get used up quickly. If you have a laser fax machine you need toner. Toner starts at about $100 and goes up from there. Again, you are paying for things that you did not want to print in the first place.

That is bad enough for a small business; it can be far worse for a volunteer organisation. In many cases they run on the smell of an oily rag and those dollars can be better spent in other areas. The other problem is that many volunteer and community organisations use what we would call old fax machines. The modern fax machines that most of us use have memories; they can do more than one thing at a time. But if you have an old version of a fax machine you might find that if it is receiving you cannot use it to send. So if you are receiving a junk fax you have to wait until it is finished before you can do your own work. That is very unfair.

There are not many forms of unwanted advertising that make the recipient pay directly for it but the sending of junk faxes is most certainly one of them. The only thing I can compare it to is spam email, because you are probably paying in terms of download. So if you are paying per megabyte or gigabyte you may be paying for some of those spam emails. The difference is that you can filter them or redirect them. You can get rid of most of them. You cannot do that with a fax, at the moment.

I may, as an example, run through a list of junk faxes that have come through my home fax machine over the recent period. It is a fax machine I have had for years; it sits on an unlisted number—that is, it is a silent line—but the faxes keep rolling in. They are many and varied but they are not useful to me. They are not about information I have asked for; they are always about something else—some rubbish. They include an advertisement for floating massages on Port Phillip Bay, another for the same but on Sydney Harbour, and faxes advertising dubious-sounding diplomas—at only one eleventh of the price of others! There are also faxes advertising holidays in Bali for dolphin watching and holidays in Thailand. There have even been faxes offering to list my fax number, for a fee of $38.50, so that I can receive even more junk faxes.

Then we have faxes advertising solar panels and home and office carpet cleaning. And there seem to be lots of faxes about laptop computers. There are faxes for go-kart racing, clothes sales, more cut price laptops and cheap restaurant meals. None of these have anything to do with the business that I have been in or am in. Certainly I have never asked to receive any of them. And of course there are ads for printer and fax ink cartridges, which I find quite ironic seeing those very ads use up the ink in the fax machine.

There are businesses that do this for a business: they sell other lists of supposed contact numbers so that people can send out yet more faxes. But I think that the fax that really took the cake was the one that was sent to me saying that I could send out my own junk faxes to 10,000 people if I pay an organisation $750 for their list and services. It would become almost endless if it went on that way. If the bill that we have before us at the moment goes through it will have the effect of allowing people to opt out of that. If they want to keep receiving such faxes that is fine, they do not have to do anything, but if they are overwhelmed by them—and I know many are—there will now be something to do about it.

The list of advertising faxes can go on but I think my point is made. Many small businesses, community organisations and households do not want faxes. Nor should they have to have them. Each one of these received faxes comes at a cost to the recipient, and their numbers are growing. This bill will provide relief from junk faxes and I am certain that it will be very popular with anyone who has ever been flooded with them. You may call it what you like but if it is not going to be used or read, to me it is junk.

The extension of the registration period to five years is also a great improvement and I am sure will be welcomed by all those who have already chosen to register their numbers on the Do Not Call register. I suspect it will also give a bit of impetus and a bit of an advertising kick to the register so that more people take advantage of it and use it for their phone services. I commend this bill to the House.