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Wednesday, 21 June 2006
Page: 40

Senator POLLEY (12:09 PM) —I rise to speak on the Do Not Call Register Bill 2006 and Do Not Call Register (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2006. Labor has been pushing for the establishment of a Do Not Call Register for quite some time now to prevent, and to protect the public from, unsolicited and nuisance calls. In fact, Labor took this policy to the 2004 election. At that time the Howard government dismissed the policy, saying it could not work in Australia. This is despite the fact that Do Not Call lists have existed in the UK since 1999, in the US since 2003 and in Canada since 2004. However, the Australian government has so far failed to do anything about the problem. It released a discussion paper only in late 2005 when the problem reached proportions that were unacceptable to the Australian community.

Each and every one of us knows the feeling. You finally sit down to dinner with the family, the phone rings and it is a telemarketer. The situation is replayed across the country as people everywhere try to go about their daily lives. The problem with these types of nuisance calls is that the companies behind them make them at times of the day when they know that people are going to be at home. In Tasmania, I have had a very large number of constituents contact me in desperation after receiving numerous calls from organisations attempting to get them to buy a product, switch to another product or submit to a survey or the like. This problem is not a new one. In fact, it has probably been around for as long as telecommunications. Most people would be familiar with the problem of junk mail; however, printed material such as catalogues can be much more easily ignored than irritating telephone calls. Some of us have even grown to enjoy receiving catalogues informing us of the latest sales, but I do not think that anyone would say the same of telemarketing phone calls.

The public consultation period on a discussion paper outlining various models of a Do Not Call Register received 495 submissions, with 90 per cent supporting the establishment of such a register. It is interesting to note that the majority of submissions that did not support the establishment of a register were from companies or businesses who would be adversely affected by such a database. In detail, this register would allow individuals who have an Australian telephone number to register to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls. The bills would oblige the Australian Communications and Media Authority to establish a Do Not Call Register which would prohibit telemarketers from calling any number which is on that register. However, there would be some exemptions for specific organisations that would be deemed to be carrying out activities in the public interest and providing services to the community. These would include charities, registered political parties, independent members of parliament and candidates, religious organisations, educational institutions and government bodies.

I know that Tasmanians are not alone in their consternation at continuous disruptions to their lives by annoying phone calls from companies trying to make a buck. As this type of harassment has been going on for years, I believe that the government is way behind the eight ball in introducing suitable legislation to combat the problem. If the demand from constituents in my office for ALP produced fact sheets on how to stop unwelcome telephone calls is any indication, there are many people with this problem in Tasmania and in Michael Ferguson’s electorate of Bass whom the government, in their arrogance, have continued to ignore over the last few years as the problem has worsened.

There are a number of problems with this legislation, not the least of which is exactly what penalty will be dealt out to a call centre which contacts someone on the Do Not Call List. The minister herself has said that, if the person contacted was to report an offending call centre, the centre would receive a fine of anywhere up to $200,000. The problem, of course, is that to report the call centre at all the person must know who the company is that has called, and quite often, and frustratingly for the person being called, these telephone calls are anonymous.

However, this bill does include requirements on the ACMA to implement mandatory industry standard rules on telemarketers relating to the hours during which telemarketing calls may be made, the disclosure of information a telemarketer must make during a call and the termination of calls. My concern with this legislation is that several loopholes may still exist through which telemarketers could continue their dubious practice of contacting people at all times of the day and night, regardless of whether they are on the Do Not Call List. The government must make clear the full extent of what these bills will or will not cover and the penalties to those businesses and organisations which ignore the Do Not Call Register.

Labor, however, is pleased that the arrogant Howard government has finally listened to Labor and adopted a plan to combat the problem—a problem which Labor has now recognised for many years. Australian families have the right to enjoy the privacy of their own homes without worrying about who is on the other end of the phone when it rings. Labor has long recognised this right and supports these long overdue bills.