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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 2835

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (5:30 PM) —Everyone hates getting annoying phone calls during dinnertime from telemarketing companies trying to sell them something. It is the last thing that anyone wants after a hard day’s work. Family First supported the creation of the Do Not Call Register back in 2006 to stop these kinds of calls and we support the changes in the current bill, which will extend people’s registration from three to five years. For many people, telemarketing calls are unwanted—they are a nuisance and an invasion of family time at home. For almost three years now, four million Australians—that is a lot of Australians—have exercised their right to get rid of these unwanted calls by registering themselves on the Do Not Call Register.

Senator Cormann —Not just four million Australians; it is four million Australian families

Senator FIELDING —That is four million Australian families who do not want to get unwanted marketing calls—four million Australian families who do not want their time wasted by these annoying calls. But guess what? Up until just a week or so ago, many of these people faced the prospect of dropping off the Do Not Call Register and once again becoming fair game for those nuisance calls. Why? Because their registration on the Do Not Call Register was going to expire. That would have meant many people would drop off the Do Not Call Register leaving them exposed when they thought they were protected by the register. It would also have meant no more quiet dinner times sitting down with the family and catching up on the day’s events; no more undisturbed TV—perhaps watching the Senate—when you get to plonk yourself on the couch after a long day at work; no more quality time with the kids or helping them out with their homework without annoying phone calls. Instead, the government finally got the message that people on the Do Not Call Register really do not want to have to keep on registering over and over again. So what did they do? They drafted an amendment. Did they draft an amendment to ensure that people would be permanently registered on the Do Not Call Register unless they asked otherwise? No, of course not. That would be doing what most people would probably want them to do. Instead, they have extended the length of registration from three years to five years. What that means is that the problem of people dropping off the Do Not Call Register unwittingly has not been fixed; it has been simply delayed. Because in two years from now the people who rushed to put themselves on the register back in May 2007 will be in the same position they are now. Sure, people can re-register themselves on the Do Not Call Register but let us face it, how many people do you think are really going to do this? How many people do you really think actually know that they are going to drop off the list and will need to re-register themselves? The government will probably say they will have some sort of campaign but we all know that that is not as effective as allowing people to register permanently.

I spoke to a number of people and asked them about the Do Not Call Register. None of them had the foggiest idea that you need to re-register. Maybe up in government circles—maybe in 7.30 Report land, I do not know—this is the topic of conversation at dinner parties, but I can tell you that out on the street most ordinary Australians would not have a clue. And now, because of shonky public policy, all these people will again be fair game for telemarketers, not now but in two years time. The government is delaying the problem, not fixing it. And what about those vulnerable Australians who most need this protection from those nuisance calls? Those Australians, many of them elderly, who unfortunately are more susceptible to high-pressure tactics and need the protection that the Do Not Call Register provides. There are many vulnerable Australians who really hold on to the fact that their number is not on telemarketers’ lists and I think the government has totally underestimated how much people rely on this register. Does the government really think that these people know that they have to re-register? I cannot believe it.

The worst part about all of this is that it would be so easy to fix this problem but the government refuses to act. In the United States and the United Kingdom registration periods have been removed, so registrations remain permanent. Maybe this is a tactic of the Rudd government to make another election promise and say they will fix it next time around and do it permanently. But in the US and the UK registration periods have been removed so that registrations remain permanent. Claims that permanent registration present a problem are just rubbish. In the US and the UK when a number is deactivated, such as when a person moves house, the register is notified and updated, meaning that even an owner’s new number will not be registered without their knowledge. This shows that permanent registration is possible and can work. There is no evidence of any problems with this system in other jurisdictions. It staggers me that the government will not go the full mile and let people register themselves permanently on the Do Not Call Register. It also staggers me that the government is still giving an exemption to—guess who?—politicians. That is right! Politicians are exempted from the Do Not Call Register. Even if you are registered on the Do Not Call Register, guess what? Politicians are exempted and, yes, they can make those calls. That is a cop-out. It is a disgrace that we ban all other companies but politicians are exempt.

Senator Cormann —You should be able to talk to your constituents.

Senator FIELDING —The issue here is why. Why would they do that? Think about all those pre-recorded messages from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition going through to the phone. Pollies are exempt. We cannot wait for those phone calls again—maybe from this Prime Minister. I do not know. Maybe those in 7.30 Report-land will be exempt! But this is a very serious issue. There are many vulnerable Australians, and to think that politicians are exempted! In my home state of Victoria there are two elections this year, and you can bet your bottom dollar that families across the state are going to be called up and hassled. It is a double standard and I think it is pathetic. It is not just the Labor Party that is guilty of this double standard; the coalition under the Howard government also supported this decision. I have been firm in my position from all the way back in 2006: politicians should be treated just like every other telemarketer or company and made to follow the Do Not Call Register.

Both of these issues—the issue of letting people permanently put themselves on the list and the issue of getting rid of the special exemption for politicians—are matters which need to be dealt with, not put off again for a couple of years. I have circulated amendments which address both of these issues and will continue to hold the government of the day to account on these two matters. The Do Not Call Register was put in place for a very good reason. We need to make sure that we continue to protect those Australians who want to be on the Do Not Call Register, not make it more difficult for them to avoid these annoying nuisance phone calls.