House debates

Monday, 29 May 2017


Communications Fees

11:55 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support this motion moved by the member for Perth. The Nick Xenophon Team have been strong supporters of the Keep Me Posted campaign right from its inception. Senator Xenophon sought to introduce legislation into the Senate in April last year to protect consumers against unfair fees for paper bills and statements. This move would have brought Australia in line with many European countries, Canada and some of the American states, particularly Pennsylvania and New York. Unlike Australia, those other countries and those American states have been quick to tackle this issue.

Being charged for paper bills and statements is a particular challenge for older Australians and for rural and regional Australians. I can understand if you are in the middle of somewhere affluent or you are a young person and good with computers that you would not think that this is an issue, but if you are an older Australian this is a big issue and it has been raised with me by many constituents. I think we are forgetting the digital divide, as many of us move to phones where we have a computer in our hand. There are many Australians—in fact, 3.5 million Australians—who do not have internet access, who do not have computer skills; not all of us are digital natives. For many people it is incredibly frightening to think that they would be receiving their bills online. The fact that we have some of our wealthiest companies in Australia demanding that older Australians, Indigenous Australians and people with a disability—those who are most likely to be susceptible to being charged for paper bills—pay to receive their bills is just astounding. Let me just reel off some of them: Citibank charges $2 per statement; Macquarie Bank, $2.50; and Suncorp Bank, $3 per statement. It does not cost that much to put a postage stamp on a bill. Telstra charges $2.20; Energy Australia, $1.69; and AGL, $1.75. I think many of these companies should be doing the right thing. They should realise that not everybody is online, not everybody has a computer and not everybody is able to determine what is a scam email and what is a real email and that some people still like to receive their bills in the mail. The average Australian household receives between seven and eight invoices per month, with an average cost of $2.20 per bill. This equates to $180 extra per annum for the privilege of getting your bill in the mail for services that you are paying for. That is $180. If you are on a pension, if you are on a very limited income, you need to make every dollar count. I think it is extraordinary that this parliament is not doing more to protect our most vulnerable Australians—as I said, people who are disabled or living in a low income household. We have to remember that just 57 per cent of households with an income of less than $40,000 have access to the internet. So what we are doing and what companies in Australia are doing is penalising those who can least afford it.


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