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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4699

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (10:50): It gives me great pride to introduce my private member's bill, the Do Not Knock Register Bill 2012. This bill establishes a register that will allow consumers to opt out of receiving door-to-door sales and marketing calls at home. It is designed to address significant and sustained community concern about the impact of door-to-door sales calls on home and family life.

I have been contacted by many constituents in my electorate who have signed contracts whose details they were unaware of, who felt the pressure on their front doorstep to sign contracts to buy products from telcos, energy companies et cetera. I have also received many calls from people referred to me by the Leon Byner Program. I would like to thank Leon Byner and 5AA for their concern on this issue. Many, many callers were referred to our office asking us to investigate door-to-door sales contracts they had signed that were completely different to what they had been told. It also pursues one of the key objectives of the ACCC this year—to address unconscionable door-to-door selling. This bill will end any confusion and it will give a clear legal obligation for companies not to knock on the door of people listed on the register.

At the heart of the bill is the principle that everyone has the right to peace and privacy in their own homes. Too often these days a knock on the door or a ring of the doorbell means an intrusion by a salesperson into our home and our life. We have all experienced these feelings of dread when the doorbell rings, perhaps just as you have sat down to dinner or when you are reading the paper on a Saturday morning. There is someone there from an energy company, a phone company or an internet company and you just know that they are going to try to sell you something, that you probably do not want or need.

As they start talking you begin to wonder how you can politely tell them that you are not interested. But they are very persistent—I think all of us have been through this—and before you know it they are asking all about your energy company or phone plan: what your current rate is, how much you pay and how much you consume. If you are assertive enough—many of us in this place are—you might tell them at that point that you are not interested, and they will leave it at that. That is fine for a lot of people but for many consumers that is not the case. If you are elderly or living alone it can be very difficult to say no to a pushy salesperson.

I have lost count of the number of times constituents have walked through my office door and burst into tears because they have been forced to pay for something that they do not want and cannot even afford. Usually they come in with a bill or two, often a final notice, and they explain that they felt so much pressure to sign up that they did so, and now are having trouble paying the bill. Often they have been the victim of misleading and deceptive conduct, like the promise of particular benefits or savings which never materialise.

Frequently, consumers and constituents tell me that they only signed up for the company because they felt quite intimated by the salesperson and thought it was the only way to get them to leave. Usually, these are older people living alone or people from other vulnerable groups—the disabled and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds—and appear to have been specifically targeted.

Unfortunately, with one in five people in my electorate being over the age of 66, Hindmarsh is considered to be a prime target area for door-to-door salespeople. It is also a very multicultural area with a big ethnic mix, and I have seen a lot of people who have limited English language skills become victims of high-pressure sales tactics, and even outright deceit by salespeople.

In fact, until recently my own mother used to have a new phone company every week and I have had to teach her how to say 'No, thank you,' to all the people who knock on her door. She is quite good at it now. So this bill will not only protect the rights of all to peace and privacy in their own homes but also help protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

We know that there is big community support for this bill. As I said earlier, many constituents have contacted me—as well as a whole range of other people including the media—saying that this is a good thing. Some recent research by the Consumer Action Law Centre found that 85 per cent of respondents were in favour of a do-not-knock register. They also found that only three per cent of people have a positive opinion about door-to-door sales; 77 per cent actively dislike door-to-door sales; and 56 per cent of people feel greater pressure to buy from door-to-door sales reps as opposed to other selling environments.

Best of all, we know that this particular model already works. The Do Not Knock Register Bill is based on the existing Do Not Call Register, which, since its establishment, has been overwhelmingly embraced by telephone account holders. In November 2011 the total registrations hit seven million, which include more than half of Australia's fixed line home numbers. And not only has it been very successful in terms of take-up, but we know that it is very effective. In November 2011, 88 per cent of people on the Do Not Call Register have reported a reduction in the number of telemarketing calls they receive.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which runs the register, has also had great success in pursuing breaches of the Do Not Call Register Act. Like the Do Not Call Register, this bill has hefty financial penalties for salespeople and companies who do not comply with the law. Penalties for breaching the provisions of the act include infringement notices, injunctions and civil penalties.

It is important to note that this bill does not affect some key public interest organisations including government bodies, charities, religious organisations, politicians and political candidates. It is specifically designed to cover marketers that affect your back pocket. For example, we do not want to stop the Salvation Army from conducting their Red Shield Appeal, which took place over the most recent weekend.

For this reason the Do Not Knock Register, like the Do Not Call Register, has special provisions for charities, religious organisations, politicians and educational organisations to allow them to continue to make house calls. Since I first proposed the legislation it has been greatly encouraging to receive an enormous amount of support not only from my own electorate but from people across Australia. I have received many letters, phone calls, emails and messages from people from all corners of our nation in support of the legislation.

But the campaign has been building for some time. Consumer Action Law Centre's sticker-based Do Not Knock campaign, has been so successful in the community already that it has been embraced by governments, including the government of my state, South Australia. But until now there has been some uncertainty about the legal status of the stickers.

This bill will end any confusion and it will give a clear legal obligation for companies not to knock on the doors of people who have opted to list on the register. Of course, the bill will build on the existing provisions in the Australian consumer law which came into full effect on 1 January 2011, and has done a lot to improve consumer rights.

Under the ACL, door-to-door salespeople are restricted in their door-to-door calls to between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am and 5pm on Saturday. This means that even if you choose not to be on the Do Not Knock Register you are still provided with some protection against intrusion into your home and family life. Under the ACL, door-to-door salespeople must also offer a cooling-off period—a set time frame in which you can return the goods and get your money back if you change your mind. As of 1 January 2012, this is now 10 days, and this will apply to anyone who does conduct door-to-door sales into the future. If the salesperson does not tell you about the cooling-off period, you are entitled to an even longer cooling-off period. These are good things that have been put in place and I would like to acknowledge the minister, who is here in the chamber with us today.

There are a number of very important elements within the ACL that will provide key protections even to those who choose not to register with the Do Not Knock register. I thank all the community members in Hindmarsh who contacted me over the years to tell me about their experiences with door-to-door sales. I spoke to, and received letters and emails from, many people who told me of their plight and their stories about how they felt pressured into signing a contract only to find out that the telco they had gone with had doubled the price or the energy company was far more expensive. The calls of all these people, the letters, their calls to the Leon Byner show on 5AA—many of which we investigated—have not gone unnoticed, and today is their day. I commend this bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Lyons ): In accordance with standing order 41, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.