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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 279

Do Not Call Register

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (14:57): Mr President, my question is to the hardworking and very competent Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield, representing the Minister for Communications. Can the minister update the Senate on the popular Howard government initiative which prevents Australians being bombarded with unsolicited approaches from telemarketers?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:57): Thank you, Senator Williams, for your question. Mr President, you probably recall that the Do Not Call Register is a longstanding and very popular Howard government initiative that enables households and individuals to opt out of receiving telemarketing phone calls and indeed even telemarketing faxes. I have not seen a fax in a while, but apparently it also serves that purpose.

The register was launched in May 2007 and was an immediate hit, with almost a million numbers being registered in 2007 alone. Listing a phone number on the register is free for both mobile and fixed lines, as long as they are primarily used for private purposes. It is against the law to make unsolicited telemarketing calls or to send marketing faxes to a number listed on the register unless consent has been obtained. Such is the success of the policy that around 8,000 telemarketers have established accounts to enable them to check that their call lists do not contravene the law.

There is no sign that the register's popularity is waning in Australia. Almost 3,600 numbers, on average, have been registered every day since its launch. Just last Thursday, ACMA, which operates the register, announced yet another milestone, when the number of fixed-line and mobile telephone numbers on the register passed 10 million. Impressively, this represents two-thirds of Australian residences with fixed-line telephones and almost 4.3 million mobile numbers.

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (14:59): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate of any threats to the continuation of this important protection for consumers?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:59): Registrations are currently time limited. Originally, the registration period was set at three years. However, that was extended under the previous government. The registration period now sits at eight years, but the government has recognised that, without regulatory intervention, numbers on the register will begin to expire from May. In response, the government is moving to permit a one-time sign-up for the register, ensuring that all numbers currently registered will remain protected from invasive telemarketing calls. The necessary regulatory changes were included in the telecommunications deregulation bill introduced into the House of Representatives on the coalition government's second repeal day, last October.

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (15:00): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how many Australians will fall off the register and be bombarded by telemarketing calls if the Senate fails to pass this bill?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (15:00): Failure to pass the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill will see the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of the register, those who signed up first, fall off the register. By the end of May this year, 354,977 numbers on the register will expire. These telephone numbers could once again be bombarded by invasive telemarketing calls. If the passage of the legislation is pushed to midyear, a further 171,430 numbers will drop off the register. The bill to which I referred has been before the House of Representatives since October and has been subject to a thorough Senate inquiry, which was tabled in this place yesterday. I urge my Senate colleagues to protect hundreds of thousands of Australians who value the benefits of the register by ensuring the timely passage of this bill.

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on notice.