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Hanging on the telephone -

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Hanging on the telephone

The World Today - Monday, 8 December , 2008 12:46:00

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: Telemarketers have hit back at criticism that they're still calling householders who
don't want to hear from them.

A survey has found that despite the fact there's a system in place which is meant to shield people
from intrusive calls, telemarketing continues to infuriate Australians.

Simon Santow has our reports.

SIMON SANTOW: The Do Not Call Register was an initiative of the previous Howard government.

Now 18 months on from its introduction, there are still complaints about pesky callers beating the
system and annoying Australians who want to be left alone.

JOSH FEAR: The language some people used to describe their reactions to telemarketing calls showed
that some people feel almost physical symptoms when they pick up the phone and realise it is a
telemarketer.

People talked about their heart sinking and feeling rotten in the pit of their stomach. There is a
great deal of resentment and anger at the intrusion.

SIMON SANTOW: Josh Fear surveyed a thousand people online for The Australia Institute.

He found that exemptions for charity collectors, politicians, educational and religious
organisations and companies already doing business with the person at the other of the line, are
wearing thin with many people.

JOSH FEAR: One person said that they got so angry once that they slammed down the phone so hard it
broke and so since that time they have never answered their calls. They always leave their
answering machine screen the calls.

SIMON SANTOW: Rob Edwards is the chief executive of the Australian Direct Marketing Association, or
ADMA.

ROB EDWARDS: I think the issue for us has always been that the calls that people complain most
about are the unsolicited calls - that is from organisations with whom you don't have an existing
relationship. And generally speaking, it is the fundraising sector that is in the firing line
there.

SIMON SANTOW: Mr Edwards says governments are starving charities, forcing them to raise more and
more money directly from the public.

ROB EDWARDS: The alternative is, as they have in the UK where they have stopped them calling
people, fundraisers are three deep on footpaths soliciting money in the streets. So it is kind of
which way you would prefer to go, to be honest.

SIMON SANTOW: But ADMA says telemarketing is overwhelmingly about a business relationship.

ROB EDWARDS: Eighty-five per cent of those are organisations dealing with their existing customers
and for the most part, people don't have a problem with that. If you are dealing with your bank or
your insurance company or the airline or whatever it may be, we don't mind those calls. And so the
issue is, as I mentioned before, is around the unsolicited calls.

SIMON SANTOW: And what about with those calls though? Do you think that some of those companies
don't know when to stop? That perhaps they have overestimated people's tolerance for the number of
calls; even if they are already customers.

ROB EDWARDS: Yes, I think in some instances that is the case and when I finish my day job, I go
home and I am a consumer as well too and perhaps I am a little strange but I receive telephone
calls at home sometimes from my friends and I don't feel like talking; let alone someone trying to
flog me something over the telephone.

So I say to my members, use the telephone at your peril. The reality is, the telephone by its
nature, is intrusive.

SIMON SANTOW: He's not in favour of a proposal to take the Do Not Call Register further by
requiring consumers to opt in rather than having to opt out.

Rob Edwards.

ROB EDWARDS: Organisations should be able to perhaps make the first call, that is if you have a
relationship with the individual; make the call. The consumer then has the right to say don't call
me anymore and that organisation is bound to honour that commitment.

SIMON SANTOW: Do you think that that is done at the moment? Do you think though that is respected?
That if the person on the end of the phone says look I really don't appreciate that and your
members or the companies involved actually respect that?

ROB EDWARDS: I would say for the most part they do. Most enlightened companies would do it. I can't
see how any organisation would benefit by trying to call consumers when the consumer is going to be
aggravated. It doesn't make sense at the end of the day.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Rob Edwards, the chief executive of the Australian Direct Marketing
Association, ending that report from Simon Santow.