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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 6

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (12:56 PM) —I thank my colleagues for their contributions to the debate on the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Amendment (National Relay Service) Bill 2005 and I thank Senator Eggleston for outlining in some considerable detail the policy objectives and content of this bill. I am grateful for the support of all senators for what is a straightforward but very important amendment. The National Relay Service, the NRS, is a telephone relay service which provides people who are deaf or who have a hearing and/or a speech impairment with access to a standard telephone service and to a text based emergency service. The service operates 24 hours a day every day of the year and is funded through a levy on eligible telecommunications carriers. The NRS is important for providing these groups of people who do have significant disabilities with access to the hearing world and also, conversely, the means for all Australians to contact by phone people who are deaf or who have a hearing or speech impairment.

Part 3 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 currently requires that the NRS be provided by a person under a contract with the Commonwealth. So the bill introduces amendments allowing the Commonwealth greater flexibility in the model for delivering a more efficient and more effective NRS—that is, by providing for at least the option of contracting with more than one provider to supply different parts of the operation of the NRS. This option is also important to enable a staged transition between service providers, should that become necessary, in the event of a new provider winning a tender for the provision of the NRS. A staged approach would certainly mitigate risks to the reliability and continuity of service for users during the transition from the outgoing to an incoming provider. However, the amendments do not affect the contractual arrangements with the current NRS provider to provide the service nor do they change the funding and levy mechanisms for the NRS. There is also no intention to provide more than one NRS. The objective is to provide, as I said, a more efficient and effective service so that the deaf, hearing and speech impaired communities continue to receive a high-quality and reliable service. I commend the bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.