Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1865

Mr LLOYD(8.56) —The Radiocommunications Bill 1983 and the associated Bills replace the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905 and the Radiocommunications Licence Fees Act 1982. The Bills were originally drafted for the previous coalition Government, and Neil Brown, the then Minister for Communications, released them in February for public comment. I believe Mr Brown should be commended for doing so. I have been advised that a seminar was arranged by two of the major industry organisations in April to discuss the legislation, and the Government has incorporated in this legislation suggestions from the seminar and from interest groups generally.

Advances in radio communications since 1905 require that the legislation be brought up to date. In discussions with the industry and in departmental briefings particular reference has been made to the lack of power in the old Act to prevent interference and also to the limited knowledge of the frequency spectrum at the time. The Department has provided a precis of the principal differences between the new Bill and the old Act. I wish to quote from that precis because I believe it highlights the differences in the legislation. In referring to the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905 and the Radiocommunications Bill 1983 it states:

1905 Scope of Act unclear; may not cover many modern spectrum uses.

1983 Clearly controls use of the radio frequency spectrum.

1905 Equipment standards not legally enforceable.

1983 Legally enforceable standards for equipment.

1905 No control of interference.

1983 Interference controlled.

1905 Does not bind the Crown.

1983 Binds the Crown.

1905 No control of Australian satellites.

1983 Control of Australian satellites.

1905 Licences needed for message passing radiocommunications receivers.

1983 Licences for receivers needed only for prescribed receivers.

1905 No provision for spectrum planning.

1983 Provision for spectrum planning.

1905 No arbiter for interference disputes.

1983 Conciliation process provided.

1905 Powers of enforcement limited.

1983 Provision for inspectors.

1905 Seized equipment forfeited.

1983 Court may order forfeiture.

After those comments I think it can be assumed that the Opposition is supporting this legislation because in most respects it is identical to the Bill released by Neil Brown, the previous Minister, and its justification has been well documented. However, there are certain areas of concern or uncertainty. If the Minister is able to respond to these questions in his remarks at the conclusion of the second reading debate, obviously it will save time at the Committee stage ; I know that the Minister wants some amendments passed at the Committee stage. I make these points on, I hope, a non-political basis because we are talking about a Bill which both sides have basically agreed to.

The first point concerns power to enforce standards of transmitters, receivers and radio-sensitive equipment. That includes consumer items such as television sets, radios, hi-fi equipment, et cetera. Presumably the Department of Communications will publish the proposed standard and the Minister can either give consideration to public comment on the standard or bypass it if he considers the making of a standard is a matter of urgency. This seems to me to provide too much authority for the Department or the Minister and too little accountability to those outside in the industry. Why not have some outside standards body, such as the Standards Association of Australia, involved in the setting of the standard and giving a greater involvement to the appropriate equipment manufacturer's association in the establishment of these standards of manufacture?

The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills has drawn attention to the compliance statement procedure, concerning equipment complying with the specified standard, for the establishment of a standard where there is not adequate-this is my view-outside expert involvement in the procedure. These provisions give special powers to the Minister without a right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I wish to bring into the setting of standards for equipment that is to be used, the question of telephone handsets, particularly now that these can be purchased, I believe quite correctly, from retailers other than Telecom Australia. There is concern, particularly among Australian based companies manufacturing handsets and competing against imported handsets, over the standard of some of these imported sets. Is there any intention by the Minister and the Government to establish standards for these telephone handsets? If so, how will it be done and by whom? If not, why not? We are referring here to the establishment of standards for equipment that can be considered to be of inadequate standard at present and can have problems of interference, et cetera. I believe it would be appropriate for the Minister to comment on any likely action by the Government with regard to telephone handsets . I refer to the Minister's second reading speech regarding the Customs power. The second last paragraph states:

I should touch on the subject of import controls over substandard equipment. While no mention is made in this Bill of prohibiting the import of substandard equipment, it is the Government's intention that substandard equipment would be barred from entering Australia through the mechanism of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations.

It is obviously a completely acceptable procedure that, if we are to have a standard for domestic manufacture of equipment, we should have the same power to ensure that imports meet that standard. I ask the question: Is there any likelihood of government action in a similar way with regard to imported telephone handsets? The Senate Committee also drew attention to the power of the Minister to determine whether to refer the complaint to a conciliator. Such decision is not appealable to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, that is, on the question of the conciliation procedures and also the reversal of the onus of proof concerning allegations that an employee has been dismissed or threatened for giving evidence at an inquiry. I think the Minister is aware of the Senate Committee's comments on the legislation. I would welcome his comments in relation to that Senate Committee when he replies.

Telexes have been received by me from both the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations and the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters-the two chief industry organisations for commercial television and commercial radio-expressing concern at the consequential amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act, which is part of this general omnibus series of Acts concerning the unauthorised use of transmitters. I make the point that neither of those organisations suggests that the legislation should be opposed. I quote the points which they are generally making and ask for the Minister's comment in relation to them. The telex from FARB stated:

We have expressed our concern to DOC about the proposed consequential amendment to the B and T Act-Part 1A. Prohibition of unauthorized operation of transmitters for broadcasting and television.

In our view, the amendment is most inadvisable and could produce undesirable and unfortunate results.

In essence, the amendment notifies unlicenced persons capable of transmitting on broadcasting frequencies that in certain circumstances they can do so without incurring any penalty.

We are concerned that the effect of this amendment may be to encourage well- meaning amateurs to commence broadcasting when, for a number of reasons, they should not.

The amendment merely exculpates persons making such broadcasts provided they have reasonable excuse, the generality of which is not limited.

We regard this as almost an invitation to broadcast.

In our view it would be far better not to legislate in this way, but to rely on the Attorney-General's discretion as to whether there should be a prosecution following unlicensed broadcasting in an emergency.

It is likely that the kinds of persons to whom the proposed amendment would apply will not have knowledge of, or expertise in, broadcasting and its responsibilities, nor are they likely to have the kinds of resources normally available to broadcasters.

This could lead to disastrous consequences as a result of the broadcasting of incorrect or unofficial information.

Ironically because the amendment ignores the content matter of such broadcasts, an unlicensed person broadcasting matter which might actually exacerbate rather than mitigate an emergency could be exculpated because he had ''reasonable excuse'' to broadcast.

The amendment runs counter to recommendations of the Natural Disasters Organisation which seek to encourage a line of communication between State emergency services and established broadcasters.

It also increases the possibility of causing interference to licensed or authorised broadcasters.

A much shorter quotation from FACTS states:

Concerned by consequential amendments to Broadcasting and Television Act, Part One A-prohibition of unauthorised operation of transmitters for broadcasting and television.

Understand this amendment suggested only recently by parliamentary counsel. Concern arises because may produce undesirable and unfortunate results not intended by D.O.C. Department currently considering legal opinion supplied by FACTS.

Contend that if intention is to permit in circumstances of genuine emergencies what would otherwise be unauthorised use of radiocommunications transmitters then reliance on subjective tests of ''reasonable excuse'' and ''honest belief'' contained in present version too ambiguous and best deleted.

I hope the Minister will respond to those points from those two organisations. Another matter of concern is the power given to inspectors who, in certain circumstances, can make arrests and search premises without a warrant. The Minister referred in his second reading speech to the view of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties in relation to the appointment and powers of inspectors. I commend the Minister for referring that aspect to the Council. But I seek his assurance that all of the Council's suggestions have actually been incorporated in the Bill.

A number of people, including members of parliament and industry representatives, have continued to express concern about the power of inspectors after I have drawn their attention to the Minister's comment concerning the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties. I have now been advised of the following Federal legislation in which inspectors or employees have similar power. It includes Customs officers; inspectors under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Act 1975; inspectors under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975; inspectors under the Fisheries Act 1952; inspectors under the Whale Protection Act 1980; inspectors under the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981; constables under section 50 of the Atomic Energy Act 1953; employees and officers under section 76 of the Australian National Railways Act 1917; inspectors under the Antarctic Treaty (Environmental Protection) Act 1980; inspectors under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976; and inspectors under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981. The point to all of that is that obviously this situation is not unique. I draw this fact to the attention of those who have expressed their concern. The fact that it has been done before, by itself, is not a reason why it should be done now. The only point I suppose I can make is that it is nothing new. That is the point that is being made.

I make the point that it is acknowledged that the Opposition will support the legislation. It was largely responsible when in government for its introduction and was responsible for some of the legislation I have just referred to. I still make the point that the powers of inspectors are a matter of concern to some people. Therefore, I draw attention to an area of concern as a member of parliament rather than as a political advocate. I seek the assurance of the Minister that, in the administration of the clauses 69 and 72 of the legislation which refer to the special powers for inspectors, departmental instruction to inspectors will be very restrictive and require accountability.

I also draw attention to the concern of amateur radio operators and the fact that the Minister, in his second reading speech, endeavoured to answer those concerns. I note also that complaints of the amateur radio operators, to a certain extent, are the opposite of those of FACTS and FARB relating to whether there is sufficient or too much flexibility with unlicensed receivers, possession offences and unauthorised broadcasts, et cetera. I have no doubt that amateur radio operators will be watching the implementation of the Bill very closely and the assurances that have been given by the Minister in his second reading speech; and, of course, so will the Opposition.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the Opposition supports the legislation. If answers can be given by the Minister in his concluding remarks to the points I have raised in good faith I will not worry about those aspects in the Committee stage.