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Transport and Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 1993



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House: Senate

Portfolio: Transport and Communications

Purpose

This is an omnibus Bill that will make a number of largely non- contentious amendments to legislation administered by the Transport and Communications portfolio. The major amendments relate to the non- disclosure duty of Australia Post employee's and Australian Telecommunications Authority (AUSTEL) power to attach conditions to class licences.

Background

As there is no central theme to the amendments proposed by this Bill, the background to each major amendment will be dealt with below.

Main Provisions

Amendments to the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989

Subsection 92(1) of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 (the Principal Act) imposes a requirement on Australia Post employee's to not disclose any fact or document relating to the contents of postal articles; postal or telecommunications services provided by Australia post; or the affairs or personal particulars (including any address) of another person; that comes to their knowledge as a consequence of being an Australia Post employee. Subsection 92(2) of the Principal Act establishes a number of exceptions to subsection 92(1), including disclosures made in the performance of an Australia Post employee's duties; as a witness summonsed to give evidence or produce documents in a court; under the requirements of a Commonwealth law; or in prescribed circumstances.

A new subsection 92(1A), that will be inserted into the Principal Act by this Bill, establishes a new exception to subsection 92(1). Proposed subsection 92(1A) provides that subsection 92(1) will not apply to the disclosure by an Australia Post employee of a customer's name and address if the customer consents in writing; the disclosure is made to a person or organisation covered by the consent; and the consent is recorded by Australia Post.

It is stated by the Minister in the Second Reading Speech to this Bill that proposed subsection 92(1A) will allow Australia Post to operate a national change of address scheme and is proposed as consequence of concerns raised by the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. In relation to this matter the main concerns included that exceptions to subsection 92(1) should be in legislation rather than regulations. 1

Amendments to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989

Subsection 20(1) of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (the Principal Act) provides that a person may import a non- standard road vehicle or a road vehicle that does not have a compliance plate where the vehicle is to be exported without having been used in Australia, or in prescribed circumstances. Subsection 20(2) provides that a person may import a non- standard prescribed vehicle component where it is to be used in the manufacture of an export vehicle, or in prescribed circumstances. In addition, the regulations may provide for such imports to be subject to Ministerial approval and or such conditions as the Minister sets (subsection 20(3)).

A new subsection 20(4), which will be inserted into the Principal Act by this Bill, will impose a maximum penalty of 60 penalty units ($6000) for knowingly or recklessly breaching a subsection 20(3) condition.

Amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1991

In addition to providing for the regulation of public networks this Act deals with the issue and regulation of class licences. Class licences relate to systems used for internal communications which may be connected to the general, public, distribution network or operated as dedicated systems, where the operator has a private link to another area. Examples of such systems range from the PABX, used for internal communication and connected to a public network, to private long range communication, such as a dedicated satellite link to allow private communication between various locations.

There has recently been concern that advanced technology, in particular digital links, may allow communications that are not capable of being intercepted by law enforcement agencies operating with the appropriate authority. While this Act provides for the consultation of law enforcement bodies in relation to public networks there is no specific power in relation to class licences.

The Act currently allows AUSTEL (the industry regulator) to impose conditions on class licences that it thinks desirable to achieve the object of the Act. Section 209 of the Act contains a general power to impose such conditions and lists specific matters that may be included in the conditions. The list of matters that conditions may relate to will be expanded under the amendment proposed by this Bill and include:

* conditions requiring suppliers of eligible services to consult, in accordance with AUSTEL directions, with Commonwealth, State and Territory law enforcement agencies about proposals to use or develop new technology in their telecommunications activities; and

* conditions requiring suppliers of eligible services to Commonwealth, State and Territory officers and authorities such help as is reasonably necessary to enforce criminal law; laws imposing pecuniary penalties; to protecting the public revenue; and safeguard national security.

The effect of new telecommunications technologies on law enforcement has recently been the subject of media comment. It is reported in The Sydney Morning Herald of 28 April 1993 that `The Federal Government has over- ridden the objections of law enforcement agencies and allowed Telecom and Optus to start new digital mobile phone networks which are so secure that conversations can escape officially authorised telephone bugging. ... The changes to the system to allow official bugging will take up to two years to complete and will cost more than $25 million, a cost which the Government has agreed to bear.' 2

References

1. See: Senate Weekly Hansard, 3 November 1992, pp. 2055- 2064.

2. See also: The Australian Financial Review, 31 March 1993, p. 7., and The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 1993, p. 48.

Bills Digest Service 19 July 1993

Parliamentary Research Service

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Commonwealth of Australia 1993.

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1993.