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Private Member’s Bill for a national ‘Do Not Call’ list.

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Monday October 31, 2005


Private Member’s Bill for a National ‘Do Not Call’ List

I present a bill for an act to protect residential telephone subscribers’ right to

avoid receiving telephone solicitations to which they object. This is seconded

by the member for Cowan, Graham Edwards. This bill is in response to the

anger and frustration of Australians who are sick of being harassed in their

own homes by telemarketers. The Telemarketing (Protection of Privacy Rights

of Residential Telephone Subscribers) Bill 2005 establishes a national ‘do not

call’ list, allowing people to opt out of receiving unwanted telemarketing calls.

It bans telemarketers from calling people on public holidays and Sundays and

on any other day between midnight and 9 am or 8 pm and midnight. And it

sets out a penalty system that would result in individuals or companies that

breached the law being issued with hefty fines. This bill also protects

Australians from receiving unwanted calls from overseas. If an Australian

corporation engages an overseas call centre to solicit on its behalf, the

Australian company is liable for any breach.

There is a growing surge of resentment as people realise there is nothing

they can do to protect their own privacy, not even in their own homes and

there is a sense of bewilderment that the federal government will not act.

Yesterday the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the

Arts released a ‘do not call’ list discussion paper. The people of Australia do

not want a discussion paper; they want action. If the government can rush

through industrial relations legislation which no-one is asking for and if it can

rush through the sale of Telstra, which no-one is asking for, why does it

release a discussion paper? Why doesn’t it support a bill before the House

today that people are clamouring for?

While my bill puts the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in

charge of the register, the government has proposed that the Australian

Communications and Media Authority be responsible for its administration. I

would support any government amendment to reconcile these differences,

because, for the sake of people’s sanity, we need to get this register

implemented as soon as possible. Thousands of people have contacted me in

support of my campaign. They are crying out for help. Unsolicited calls are the

biggest source of complaints to the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading,

and in Victoria and South Australia complaints have surged. Last year, the

average Australian received 53 telemarketing calls per week. That is a total of

1,065 billion calls a year, not including the millions of calls coming from

overseas call centres in countries such as India and Singapore. This means

that Australians are spending around half an hour each week fielding

telemarketing calls. Thanks to telemarketers, there are now, in effect, only 364

days in a year for each individual.

Is it any wonder that people are fed up with these calls? They are annoying,

invasive and often quite intimidating. They affect all sectors of our community.

I think most families will know what I am talking about when I mention the

witching hour. You are trying to cook the dinner, bath the kids and get them to

bed, only to have the phone ring with the wonderful line: ‘Good evening, Mrs

Burke,’—and I know someone is not ringing me for a friendly chat when they

use that title—‘Would you like to buy something?’ Families have such little

time together as it is that these precious moments must be protected. For

anyone working from home these calls are also a huge distraction, and

seniors, particularly those who are physically frail or have dementia, find these

calls extremely disturbing. As a result, people are subscribing to private

services or opting for silent numbers. But people should not have to pay to

protect their privacy; the government should protect it for them. State

legislation cannot be enforced against interstate or overseas telemarketers,

and the Australian Direct Marketing Association’s ‘do not call’ register only

applies to 500 members.

People ask me, ‘Why hasn’t the federal government done anything?’ There

is no logical reason. As the government has legislated against spam, why

legislate against telemarketing? In 2004, the then communications minister

dismissed Labor’s policy for a national ‘do not call’ list based on the US model

as ‘populist’, questioning whether it would work here. It has worked in the US,

and it is a success, with more than 100 million households registered. It will

work in Australia. His claim that a list could cost hundreds of thousands of

jobs was a furphy, as the evidence from the US shows. An article in

Advertising Age said:

... early indications are that the industry is evolving, rather than facing extinction: many

telemarketers appear to have survived by broadening their businesses.

And according to Manpower Inc:

The ‘do not call’ registry didn’t decrease the demand for personnel; it just shifted the work

employees had to do.

Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way

to sell a mobile phone plan. Companies must adopt marketing methods that

do not invade the privacy of consumers. Of course, when establishing the list

it may be necessary to close off any loopholes. For instance, making caller ID

mandatory for direct marketers. Privacy should be a right, not a privilege.

People should have the right to protect their family time and say no to

telemarketers. The Howard government today has an opportunity to give the

community what it wants: not a discussion paper, but a way to stop these

annoying telemarketing calls now—not next year or the year after that, but


Contact Anna Burke on 0418 326 452 or Jehane Sharah on 0417 140 935