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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3264

Ms BURKE (1:55 PM) —In October 2005, I introduced a private member’s bill into this House calling on the government to introduce a Do Not Call Register to protect consumers from unwanted and unsolicited telemarketing calls. The then Howard government advised that this bill was outrageous and that it could not support the bill and claimed that it would not work. Indeed, the arguments that the member for Bradfield has just raised for extending the list are the very arguments that the government of the day put up for why we could not have a Do Not Call Register at all. To come into this place claiming credibility for the legislation is a little stretched. Yes, the Howard government did introduce the bill, but only after outrageous consumer demand—only after talk-back radio ran with this issue for three years. Eventually, Senator Helen Coonan, as the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, said, ‘Yes, we have heard the public; we are going to do something about it.’ So I want to say thankyou to the consumers out there, the people of Australia who said, ‘We want something.’

Registers were already operating successfully in the US and UK and I for one could not understand why we could not duplicate that here. The technology existed. It was an easy transition. After overwhelming public support for my campaign, the campaign on behalf of the Labor Party policy, the Howard government finally bowed and decided to adopt a policy to establish a Do Not Call Register, pretty much modelled on my private member’s bill.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!

Ms BURKE —In that year alone, telemarketers made over one billion calls to Australian households. You do not get to claim much in this House, but I am claiming the Do Not Call Register—I am! When the register was finally launched in May 2007, the public voted with their feet with over one million numbers registered in the first month of the register going live. Since that time, nearly 4.7 million homes, mobiles and VoIP numbers have been listed on the Do Not Call Register. This translates to roughly one in three Australian households who have opted out of receiving telemarketing calls. Most Australians want their house to be their castle, not a telemarketing paradise. This vindicates the popularity of the Do Not Call Register while reinforcing the message that the public wants to be able to choose whether or not to receive a telemarketing call.

A recent survey by ACMA found 93 per cent of those registered noticed fewer telemarketing calls after registering their home phone. From May 2008 to May 2009, ACMA received 12,000 complaints amounting to a 60 per cent drop from May 2007 to May 2008—figures of over 30,000 complaints. These statistics speak for themselves. The Do Not Call Register has been an outstanding success and is testimony to the will of the community to support my campaign.

The Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 builds on the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Telecommunications Act 1997. It broadens and entrenches the Do Not Call Register as a powerful tool for consumers to choose to protect themselves from nuisance calls and fax machines. There has been considerable community pressure to extend the register period of the Do Not Call Register from three years. Initially, when the bill was introduced by the Howard government it caved in to the industry and said, ‘Okay, after three years all numbers will fall off.’ This was a mistake and there has been outstanding public pressure to extend it. As this initial three-year period starts to expire at the end of May this year, there will be a million people who will fall off the register. By the end of April, 40 per cent of people had reregistered their numbers, leaving the majority of people vulnerable to having their numbers drop off at the end of this month. This bill lengthens the registration period for numbers registered on the Do Not Call list initially from three to five years, including existing registrations. This will prevent numbers from dropping off the registration at the end of this month.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member for Chisholm will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.