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Thursday, 28 January 2010 01:00

ACCAN warns of 'telemarketing tsunami' unless Do-not-Call rules are amended


ACCAN warns of 'telemarketing tsunami' unless Do-not-Call rules are amended

The Australian Consumers Communications Action Network (ACCAN) is hoping to make its first big impact on legislation with its bid to have the renewal requirement for the Do-Not-Call register dropped when legislation to amend the Act comes before Parliament next month.

"The flood gates to intrusive and unwanted telemarketing calls are about to open for millions of people who are unaware that their telephone number is about to be kicked off the Do Not Call Register," said ACCAN CEO, Allan Asher."

According to Asher the failure of the new legislation to address the three-year sunset clause is a glaring oversight that needs to be addressed, and the significance of which has escaped many members of Parliament.

"Immediate action needs to be taken to close the little known and ill-conceived loophole that limits registrations on the Do Not Call Register to three years," Asher said.

He cited ACMA research indicating that only 25 percent of people registered know that their registration is valid for only years, and only 15 percent know they can re-register anytime before registration expires.

""Forcing consumers to re-register their number is nonsensical. The renewal requirement was never a well-thought strategy in the first place and puts Australia behind international best practice," Asher said. "Instead of channelling funds into making people aware of registration renewal, resources would be far better placed in making numbers on the register permanent."

He suggested that members of Parliament were likely to take an interest in the issue, with the potential of "4.1 million consumers becoming targets for telemarketers in an election year."

The Act as initially drafted - and currently in force - applies only to consumer fixed and mobile phone numbers and requires users to renew their registration after three years. It came into force in May 2007 with about one million numbers pre-registered. Without changes to the legislation these numbers will be available to telemarketers after 1 May 2010 unless consumers renew their registration.

Within a year of launch more than two million numbers had been registered and the register's existence was last year flagged as a significant contributor to a downturn in the call centre industry. Registrations currently stand at 4.1 million numbers.

The 2009 Federal Budget allocated $4.7m to expand the Do Not Call Register to apply to business numbers, fax numbers and numbers used by emergency service providers and the legislation to implement this, The Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009, was tabled in the House of Reps on 26 November. It has been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, which requested submissions by 22 January in order to meet its scheduled reporting date of 24 February. The bill is due to be debated in the Senate in its next sitting 2-4 February.

The question of an expiry date for consumer registration is not a focus of the new legislation. In the second reading speech on the bill, Anthony Albanese, minister for infrastructure, transport, regional development and local government, said: "There have been many concerns raised about the restrictions on the types of numbers that can be listed on the register...The purpose of this bill is to amend the [legislation] to give all individuals, businesses, government agencies, emergency service operators and other organisations the choice of whether they wish to receive unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes."

In its submission to the Senate enquiry, ACCAN has also called for consumers' willingness to receive telemarketing calls to be on an opt-in rather than opt-out basis, and it notes that this is the basis on which email and SMS marketing (aka 'spam') is regulated.

The submission says: "We believe that there would be substantial benefits in moving to an 'opt-in' model for telemarketing in Australia. Australia's approach to the regulation of...[spam] is based on a default model that deems all unsolicited commercial communications to be spam unless there is express (or inferred) consent to receive the communication. "This approach achieves a better outcome for consumers and there is no evidence that this form of regulation has had a negative economic impact.

ACCAN cites ACMA research showing that "32 percent of households are on the Register and nearly three out of four people not currently on the [register] are interested in joining." This, it says, "clearly indicates that the 'hassle' of registering is preventing a larger number of people joining. If the majority of the Australian community have expressed a desire to be left alone by telemarketers, then the [register] should switch to an opt-in model."


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