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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 281

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthMinister for Communications) (11:12): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013 introduces important amendments to reduce the administrative burden of telecommunications legislation on industry; enhance consumer protections; and ensure the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme is periodically reviewed and updated to meet best practice standards.

In a rapidly changing communications environment it is essential that the codes under which the industry operates can be readily updated in response to new technology and changing service standards and that Australian consumers can have problems with their telecommunications services quickly resolved.

I note that these legislative measures were introduced in a very similar form by the former government prior to the September election and that the earlier version of this bill received bipartisan and industry support at the time.

This bill contains several key measures.

The bill enhances the operational efficiency of the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 by clarifying the meaning of 'cause' in that act in relation to the party responsible for making a telemarketing call or sending a marketing fax.

Approximately nine million telephone numbers are listed on the Do Not Call Register, including two-thirds of Australian households with a fixed line home telephone and close to four million mobile telephone numbers.

Amendments included in this bill will provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority with the ability to undertake more effective enforcement action in relation to unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes.

The amendments being made will also clarify responsibility for unsolicited marketing calls and faxes so that a party contracting with an intermediary that makes telemarketing calls or sends telemarketing faxes cannot evade responsibility for compliance with the Do Not Call Register by using intermediaries of that kind on their behalf.

The proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 included in this bill will simplify the process of updating the body of industry codes that form the basis of the telecommunications industry's self and co-regulatory framework.

These codes cover, among other things, consumer protections, technical matters, operational and inter-operator arrangements. They are registered—and when necessary enforced—by the ACMA.

Under existing legislation, making changes to a registered code has required that the entire document be opened up for formal revision—a process that at times has entailed more than a year of work by multiple stakeholders.

These amendments will allow code developers to maintain robust and dynamic industry codes by enabling them to be varied or amended, rather than being replaced in their entirety, subject to the approval of the ACMA.

Additionally, the amendments:

extend the reimbursement scheme for developing consumer related industry codes to also apply to variations of those codes; and

improve the transparency of code development by requiring draft codes and most submissions to be published on the code developer's website.

The telecommunications industry has welcomed the proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act which will also facilitate a planned program to reduce the co-regulatory burden on the sector by streamlining and consolidating requirements where these are duplicated within multiple codes.

Such measures will complement this government's broader efforts to reduce the red-tape burden on all sectors of the Australian economy which we intend to lead to savings of $1 billion per year.

Lastly, the bill also introduces amendments to provide greater regulatory clarity around the role of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and its expected standards of operation. These amendments were developed in response to recommendations from a 2012 review of the TIO scheme.

The bill achieves this objective by requiring the TIO scheme to comply with standards determined by legislative instrument made by the minister.

The bill also requires the TIO scheme to be independently reviewed and provide for consultation with the public and the ACMA. The TIO will be required to publish a final review report on its website and respond to any review recommendations within a specific time frame.

These amendments will ensure the TIO scheme continues to operate as a best practice alternative dispute resolution service—a great example of the industry solving consumer problems rather than relying on government regulation.

The various amendments in this bill are not contentious and have the support of industry, regulatory authorities and consumer representatives.

There is no doubt the communications landscape is entering a critical phase where changes in technology are making traditional regulatory frameworks either inefficient or redundant. This bill removes certain regulatory rigidities while preserving transparency and accountability for telecommunications consumers.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.