Thursday, 13 May 2010
Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
I will be brief, yet again, because yet again we are running out of time. As the minister just said, this is uncontroversial legislation, but the handling of this legislation by the government is anything but. It is a disgrace that we are here in the last 15 minutes of this week in parliament, the last possible opportunity to deal with this legislation. If we do not deal with this legislation in the next 15 minutes, more than four million families across Australia might be exposed to those nuisance calls from telemarketers that they do not want. Here we are in this position. The government, through its mismanagement, is putting the Senate in this position. Because we are focused on the national interest, because we are focused on the interests of more than four million families across Australia, we are doing the right and the decent thing. The coalition, the Greens and Family First are all facilitating the speedy passage of this bill, but the way this is being handled is a disgrace.
Of course, the whole handling of this legislation since it was introduced in November last year has been a disgrace. The reason the government get themselves into trouble again and again is that they have these ideological slogans, these grandiose statements. They come up with these announcements with great fanfare: ‘We’re going to include all the businesses across Australia in this as well.’ Not thinking things through is what gets them into trouble again and again. That is what delivered us the failure on GroceryWatch, on Fuelwatch, on the ETS. Everything they have touched they have stuffed up.
I did promise that I would keep it short and Senator Fisher explained in some detail the many flaws that the minister had to address belatedly in a late Friday afternoon backflip which he thought he could get away with while no-one was watching, on 30 April. Here we are. This inclusion of businesses in the Do Not Call Register was never going to be workable. We told you so right from the outset. It only took you five or six months to figure it out, and eventually you came onboard with what we told you all along. It is incompetent government. It is a government driven by grandiose ideological statements. They do not think things through. That is why we always end up, under this government’s mismanagement and maladministration, in the sorts of circumstances we are in.
While I am on my feet, and so that I do not have to get on my feet again, I am just going to quickly make a comment in relation to the amendments that Senator Fielding has foreshadowed. The coalition will not be supporting those amendments. Essentially, in relation to the exemption of political parties, we take the view that allowing an exemption for political parties from the register is consistent with other exemptions in the bill which seek to balance the ability of organisations to undertake socially important work. Political parties, Independent MPs—including you, Senator Fielding—and nominated candidates play a vital role in a democratic society and it is important that they be able to continue to make a range of calls to enable them to continue to fulfil their roles.
In relation to permanent registration, we agree with the government that permanent registration on the Do Not Call Register would lead to many practical difficulties with keeping the register accurate and relevant. Industry figures suggest the Do Not Call Register would be 40 per cent out of date within five years if permanent registration were introduced, and 10 per cent of phone numbers, incidentally, are disconnected every year. We agree with the proposition that it would unfairly disadvantage businesses, because they would be forced to comply with a register that does not reflect consumer preferences in relation to receiving telemarketing calls.
With those few words, I conclude my contribution on this particular piece of legislation but yet again point out that it did not have to come to this. We did not have to waste the last five or six months. It came down to the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee, with coalition senators under the leadership of Senator Fisher, to expose the many flaws in this legislation which the government had to address at the last minute. They thought they could do it under the cover of a late Friday afternoon announcement. It is one backflip after another. We are dealing with an incompetent minister, we are dealing with an incompetent government and it is time that they actually learnt that public administration is something that involves a little bit of thinking from time to time.
They were. They were great. It was a great speech. We were trying to conclude the debate before two o’clock and I think Senator Feeney thought that my complimenting of the government was a little bit backhanded, so I will just make clear what it is that I mean. This is obviously a bandaid. It is a quick fix, but it is one that is appropriate. I would prefer that the government do this, even though they are going to cop a bit of a flogging from the opposition and the crossbenchers for the awkward way in which it is being passed. Better that than to just persist with something that is broken and wrong. I would always prefer, and the Australian Greens would always prefer—and we will not be giving you much of a kicking for—coming back with something that works, with improved legislation that saves the Commonwealth money, rather than pig-headedly persisting with something that is obviously flawed. So we appreciate the opportunity and the consent of the coalition for at least bringing this back so that we can debate it.
We are keenly aware of the consequences if this is held over for another month. Every day that this lapses costs the Commonwealth money, and so we are happy to see it pass this evening. For many of the reasons that Senator Cormann outlined, we will not be supporting the amendments proposed by Senator Fielding, although I have some affinity for them. We believe that maintaining the list in perpetuity will perhaps leave us with many of the issues that the government has used to justify giving us a couple of years extension to sort the system out in future. Presumably we will be revisiting this legislation some time in the new parliament. Hopefully we will be doing it in a fashion a little bit less awkward.
by leave—I move items (1) to (4) on sheet 6049 revised:
(1) Schedule 1, item 42, page 13 (lines 9 to 14), omit paragraph 17(1)(b), substitute:
(b) remains in force unless removed from the Do Not Call Register:
(i) under paragraph 16(f); or
(ii) in accordance with a determination under paragraph 18(1)(e); or
(iii) in accordance with an application by:
(A) the relevant telephone account-holder; or
(B) a nominee of the relevant telephone account-holder;
in the form (if any) specified in a determination under paragraph 18(1)(aa).
(2) Schedule 1, item 42A, page 13 (lines 15 to 18), item to be opposed.
(3) Schedule 1, item 43, page 13 (lines 19 and 20), omit the item, substitute:
43 Subsection 17(2)
Repeal the subsection.
(4) Schedule 1, page 13 (after line 24), after item 49, insert:
49A After paragraph 18(1)(a)
(aa) the form of applications for Australian numbers to be removed from the Do Not Call Register;
I will talk to both types of amendments—and I spoke to them in my speech quite well. What I will say is that they do permanent registration in the US and the UK. When a number is deactivated, or when someone changes their number, it is taken off the Do Not Call Register and you have to reregister. I understand the Liberal Party’s comments but I am not sure they are really well thought through. But the fact that the US and the UK do it indicates there is a reasonable way of making sure that numbers which have been deactivated do not remain on the register, so that the next owner of the number does not have a do not call number. There are ways around that.
On the removal of exemptions for political parties on the Do Not Call Register, I think a classic example is that of prerecorded messages from the Prime Minister. I think they would be classified as being pretty close to being a nuisance call. I am pretty sure Labor would agree with me, because they called those sorts of calls nuisance calls when the previous government used them. This would be a way of making sure that that did not happen, given that they complained so bitterly about them at the time. There would be consistency if Labor did support it. It is important that there is at least a two-year extension. That is the only reason I agreed to make this legislation non-controversial. I appreciate the chamber allowing me to speak and to raise my concerns, which I have been consistent on, and I am hoping that Labor may do a backflip and support my amendments.
by leave—I move items (5) and (6) on sheet 6049.
(5) Schedule 1, page 16 (after line 4), after item 67, insert:
67A Clause 3 of Schedule 1
Repeal the clause.
(6) Schedule 1, item 71, page 17 (line 8) to page 19 (line 6), clause 3 of Schedule 1A to be opposed.
I put the same arguments as before.