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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 46

Senator CHERRY (12:25 PM) —I move Democrats amendment (8) on sheet 4543:

(8)    Page 50 (after line 28), at the end of the bill, add:

Schedule 1—Consequential amendments

Telecommunications Act 1997

In my view, this amendment is probably the most important of the suite of consumer driven amendments I am moving today. It seeks to change the regulatory policy of the Telecommunications Act. It not only directly follows the recommendation of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee’s report but it also picks up wording directly from the report to the ACA, called Consumer driven communication strategies for better representation, or the CDC report. That was a report which the ACA commissioned from a panel of consumer experts. It recommends a range of changes, some of which are administrative—and so, obviously, are being dealt with by the ACA board—and some of which are legislative. Of the latter, this change is probably the most important.

I think it is appropriate that we consider the amendment in the context of the ACMA Bill. Essentially, what this amendment seeks to do is to modify the regulatory policy section of the Telecommunications Act, section 4, to downplay to a degree the extent to which self-regulation is the preferred means of regulation under the Telecommunications Act. The current regulatory policy provision provides:

The Parliament intends that telecommunications be regulated in a manner that … promotes the greatest practicable use of industry self-regulation …

                  …         …           …

but does not compromise the effectiveness of regulation in achieving the objects mentioned in section 3.

The consumer bodies have always had difficulty with the emphasis on self-regulation in the Telecommunications Act. True, on one level it works very well—for non-controversial, technical matters like standards of performance and so forth. But it does not work very well in respect of matters which are more controversial—the consumer service guarantee, consumer complaints, customer satisfaction, billing and a whole range of matters which the ACA obviously has a say in. In those areas self-regulation is in fact the worst way to utilise the regulatory means.

What the consumer panels have suggested is that the Telecommunications Act should be amended to make it clear that the promotion or use of industry self-regulation should occur where this will not impede the long-term interests of end users. So we are picking up some of the wording which is in section 3 of the act but making it quite clear that self-regulation is qualified in terms of the extent to which it is used. That does not necessarily in any dramatic sense change the balance in the Telecommunications Act, but it does make it abundantly clear in the regulatory policy under which ACMA will operate that it is the interests of end users which are absolutely dominant. The use of industry self-regulation should be promoted, true, but only where it does not impede the long-term interests of end users. Rather than a radical change of regulatory policy, it is a rebalancing of regulatory policy to make it clear to the ACMA that we are putting self-regulation, yes, first and foremost but also on the same level as the fundamental importance of protecting the long-term interests of consumers.