Thursday, 13 May 2010
Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009
Everyone hates getting annoying phone calls during dinnertime from telemarketing companies trying to sell them something. It is the last thing that anyone wants after a hard day’s work. Family First supported the creation of the Do Not Call Register back in 2006 to stop these kinds of calls and we support the changes in the current bill, which will extend people’s registration from three to five years. For many people, telemarketing calls are unwanted—they are a nuisance and an invasion of family time at home. For almost three years now, four million Australians—that is a lot of Australians—have exercised their right to get rid of these unwanted calls by registering themselves on the Do Not Call Register.
That is four million Australian families who do not want to get unwanted marketing calls—four million Australian families who do not want their time wasted by these annoying calls. But guess what? Up until just a week or so ago, many of these people faced the prospect of dropping off the Do Not Call Register and once again becoming fair game for those nuisance calls. Why? Because their registration on the Do Not Call Register was going to expire. That would have meant many people would drop off the Do Not Call Register leaving them exposed when they thought they were protected by the register. It would also have meant no more quiet dinner times sitting down with the family and catching up on the day’s events; no more undisturbed TV—perhaps watching the Senate—when you get to plonk yourself on the couch after a long day at work; no more quality time with the kids or helping them out with their homework without annoying phone calls. Instead, the government finally got the message that people on the Do Not Call Register really do not want to have to keep on registering over and over again. So what did they do? They drafted an amendment. Did they draft an amendment to ensure that people would be permanently registered on the Do Not Call Register unless they asked otherwise? No, of course not. That would be doing what most people would probably want them to do. Instead, they have extended the length of registration from three years to five years. What that means is that the problem of people dropping off the Do Not Call Register unwittingly has not been fixed; it has been simply delayed. Because in two years from now the people who rushed to put themselves on the register back in May 2007 will be in the same position they are now. Sure, people can re-register themselves on the Do Not Call Register but let us face it, how many people do you think are really going to do this? How many people do you really think actually know that they are going to drop off the list and will need to re-register themselves? The government will probably say they will have some sort of campaign but we all know that that is not as effective as allowing people to register permanently.
I spoke to a number of people and asked them about the Do Not Call Register. None of them had the foggiest idea that you need to re-register. Maybe up in government circles—maybe in 7.30 Report land, I do not know—this is the topic of conversation at dinner parties, but I can tell you that out on the street most ordinary Australians would not have a clue. And now, because of shonky public policy, all these people will again be fair game for telemarketers, not now but in two years time. The government is delaying the problem, not fixing it. And what about those vulnerable Australians who most need this protection from those nuisance calls? Those Australians, many of them elderly, who unfortunately are more susceptible to high-pressure tactics and need the protection that the Do Not Call Register provides. There are many vulnerable Australians who really hold on to the fact that their number is not on telemarketers’ lists and I think the government has totally underestimated how much people rely on this register. Does the government really think that these people know that they have to re-register? I cannot believe it.
The worst part about all of this is that it would be so easy to fix this problem but the government refuses to act. In the United States and the United Kingdom registration periods have been removed, so registrations remain permanent. Maybe this is a tactic of the Rudd government to make another election promise and say they will fix it next time around and do it permanently. But in the US and the UK registration periods have been removed so that registrations remain permanent. Claims that permanent registration present a problem are just rubbish. In the US and the UK when a number is deactivated, such as when a person moves house, the register is notified and updated, meaning that even an owner’s new number will not be registered without their knowledge. This shows that permanent registration is possible and can work. There is no evidence of any problems with this system in other jurisdictions. It staggers me that the government will not go the full mile and let people register themselves permanently on the Do Not Call Register. It also staggers me that the government is still giving an exemption to—guess who?—politicians. That is right! Politicians are exempted from the Do Not Call Register. Even if you are registered on the Do Not Call Register, guess what? Politicians are exempted and, yes, they can make those calls. That is a cop-out. It is a disgrace that we ban all other companies but politicians are exempt.
The issue here is why. Why would they do that? Think about all those pre-recorded messages from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition going through to the phone. Pollies are exempt. We cannot wait for those phone calls again—maybe from this Prime Minister. I do not know. Maybe those in 7.30 Report-land will be exempt! But this is a very serious issue. There are many vulnerable Australians, and to think that politicians are exempted! In my home state of Victoria there are two elections this year, and you can bet your bottom dollar that families across the state are going to be called up and hassled. It is a double standard and I think it is pathetic. It is not just the Labor Party that is guilty of this double standard; the coalition under the Howard government also supported this decision. I have been firm in my position from all the way back in 2006: politicians should be treated just like every other telemarketer or company and made to follow the Do Not Call Register.
Both of these issues—the issue of letting people permanently put themselves on the list and the issue of getting rid of the special exemption for politicians—are matters which need to be dealt with, not put off again for a couple of years. I have circulated amendments which address both of these issues and will continue to hold the government of the day to account on these two matters. The Do Not Call Register was put in place for a very good reason. We need to make sure that we continue to protect those Australians who want to be on the Do Not Call Register, not make it more difficult for them to avoid these annoying nuisance phone calls.
It is good that we have got to this amended Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 now before the chamber, but it is bad that it has taken so much to get to this. What a waste in getting to this. What a waste of time. What a waste of money. What a waste of work. The government announced its Do Not Call Register proposition at budget time last year. It took them another six months to release discussion papers to start to get legislation drafted. What a waste of time, particularly when it is now incumbent upon this place to pass the bill with amendments to keep existing homeowners’ do-not-call registrations alive. What a waste.
What a waste that it took stakeholders; business, which was supposedly going to benefit from this bill; and the parliament, in particular the opposition and Senate committee processes, to do the homework that the government should have done but, as usual, failed to do in preparing the Do Not Call Register proposal without any sort of evidence based policy. Why all that waste when all this bill was ever based upon was a ministerial whim? That is what it was. In evidence given to Senate inquiries into the bill, Senator Conroy said:
It has been a particular concern of mine that unwanted and unsolicited calls and faxes are wasting valuable business resources …
He said that in an attempt to justify the proposition that businesses should be able to register themselves on the Do Not Call Register—a proposition which is now no longer part of the bill. I then asked:
Do you have evidence from business?
Senator Conroy said:
Businesses that choose to register their number clearly want protection against telemarketing calls. If they do not, then they do not have to.
That is code from Minister Conroy for ‘We will build it and they will come’—the same sort of code that he is using for the National Broadband Network. His faith was ‘Build the Do Not Call Register and they will come.’ Through the Senate committee process he finally learnt that business would not come. The Senate committee heard, ‘What conscientious CEO would care to register his or her business on the Do Not Call Register, effectively saying, “My business is closed for business”?’ Minister Conroy would have realised, had he done his homework, that the very businesses that were supposedly going to benefit from the Do Not Call Register would not have put themselves on the register in the first place.
He also would have realised that his proposition would not work, because the bill failed to distinguish between so-called telemarketing calls to business and normal business-to-business calls—so much so that pretty much every business making everyday commercial phone calls would have been forced to call a Do Not Call Register authority to check that the very business they wanted to call was not registered on the Do Not Call Register. This presented the absolutely absurd proposition that almost every business would have to call a register to see if a recipient of their call was on it when, in fact, the register would likely be empty. That was proven through the Senate committee process by the relevant department confessing, firstly, that they had no proof of how many businesses would register for the Do Not Call Register if the bill were to proceed in its original form. Secondly, they had no idea, no mapping and no cost-benefit analysis of the number of occasions on which a business wanting to make outgoing phone calls to another business would have to check with the Do Not Call Register, what it would cost them to do so, for what period of time a so-called washed list of numbers you could call would last and what the consequences of that would be. The government had not done its policy homework.
So we have wasted all this time and all this industry resource and effort essentially on a minister’s whim: ‘Let me build it and they will come.’ The Australian people are entitled to ask whether it will be exactly the same with the same minister and his ‘Let me build the National Broadband Network and they will come’.
I thank senators for their contributions on the Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009. This is, of course, noncontroversial legislation. This bill expands the class of numbers that can be listed on the Do Not Call Register and allows for a change to the registration period which initially will be set at five years for both existing registrations and future registrations. I commend the bill.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.