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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3304

Ms BURKE (4:41 PM) —In continuing my remarks I will not take too much time. I was saying just before question time that the government has listened to the concerns of consumers who have asked for the extension of the cut-off period from three to five years, and we will be doing that. At the end of April 40 per cent had reregistered numbers, leaving the majority of people vulnerable to having their numbers dropped 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 register from the end of this month causing untold grief to re-emerge in people’s homes. It will also give certainty back to the industry as well, so it will assist people within the telemarketing community not to have to redo the whole list again. So it is a win-win for all concerned.

The bill will also reinstate any numbers that drop off the register between the end of the month and the time at which the bill commences. As soon as these amendments come into effect, the numbers of those who registered later in 2007 will not need to be re-registered until 2012. That is why we need to get the bill through as quickly as possible today.

The government has been particularly concerned that unwanted and unsolicited calls could potentially affect the operation of emergency service organisations and that unwanted and unsolicited faxes are wasting valuable business resources. Again, we have listened to consumers’ concerns, especially the emergency services. The receipt of telemarketing calls by emergency service organisations is quite troubling, as these calls may potentially impact on emergency service responses. 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. This is an absolute disgrace.

There have also been concerns raised by fax owners. Indeed, many small businesses and individuals in my electorate have contacted me about the bombardment via fax from unwanted marketing. The register does not allow them to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial faxes at present. Much of the cost of marketing faxes is transferred to the recipient—in fact, all the cost is predominantly transferred to the recipient in lost time, productivity and the tying up of communications equipment as well as additional costs of consumables. Small businesses are waiting for business to come through the fax; they do not want it to be tied up with unsolicited marketing. The bill enables the expansion of the register to enable the registration of emergency service and government telephone numbers and all fax numbers. This is a welcome addition, and one that many in the community have been calling for.

These amendments will benefit any Australian who owns a fax machine or has an interest in the efficient operation of emergency service organisations as well as government agencies. All of us know that in our electorate offices a ridiculous number of these faxes come through. I certainly know, from small businesses and big businesses operating in my electorate, that it is a complete waste of people’s time and money to have these things come through their fax machines and that it will be a welcome relief to have this change to the register.

This change may also assist the telemarketing and fax marketing industries to target their campaigns to those account holders who are likely to respond positively to their representations. Indeed, when the Do Not Call Register was first put in place the telemarketing industry said that they would fall over—they would collapse—and that there would be a huge downturn. That has not been the case, as was also demonstrated when the UK and the US introduced their systems. The telemarketing industry has been able to adapt and change and we have not seen a corresponding drop-off of employment in these areas.

I move to the other changes that we are not making in respect of the bill before us today. There has been a great deal of discussion by businesses seeking to have their numbers also put on the register. When you think of businesses you need to think of micro businesses. We could be talking about an individual businessperson operating out of their home. They would have two phones: one is their business phone registered with their ABN and one is their personal phone. A lot of these people would like to have their small businesses—their additional home phone—put on the register. I do not think it as black and white as the opposition has been making out.

A departmental discussion paper was released in August 2008 seeking community views on whether all telephone and fax numbers should be eligible for inclusion on the register, including businesses. Submissions to the discussion paper found that 86 per cent of respondents supported the inclusion of all telephone and fax numbers. I welcome the minister’s statement that his department will do some further research and consultation to see if there is a case for allowing business numbers on the register.

I believe that expanding the register to include small businesses would offer them the same level of protection afforded to consumers, and help prevent productivity losses currently experienced as a result of invasive phone calls. It would also help protect those households that operate micro and small businesses, from those nuisance calls that they are getting. I certainly know one business operator in my electorate who says: ‘My small business is out the back in the garage. I’m trying to get the tea ready, I hear the phone ringing and I think it might be a business opportunity. I race out but it’s a telemarketing call.’

It is not so black and white. I do not think the argument put forward, that somehow this will lose all opportunities for business-to-business relationships, is the case. I think there are ways of doing it. I understand there is an urgent need to get this legislation through and I welcome the opposition’s support of expanding the time period for the list. I support the bill before the House. I think it is a welcome addition for consumers who won the right to get this legislation in the first place.

Again, I want to say thank you to the many radio talk-back announcers who made this bill a reality back in 2007, when the Howard government and the then minister for communication said that it could not work. The consumers spoke loud and clear, the radio spoke loud and clear, and a good piece of legislation was put in place. This will be an improvement. I commend the bill to the House.