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Wednesday, 02 December 2009 10:50

Anti-telemarketing bill faces Senate scrutiny

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A bill that would extend do-not-call legislation from residential phone numbers to all phone, and fax, numbers has been referred to a Senate Committee for scrutiny and report.

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 has requested submissions by 22 January in order to meet its scheduled reporting date of 24 February.

In his second reading speech on the bill, Anthony Albanese, minister for infrastructure, transport, regional development and local government, said businesses, particularly small businesses, had raised concerns about the losses in productivity caused by responding to unsolicited telemarketing calls.

"There have also been concerns raised by fax owners that the register does not allow them to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial faxes. Much of the cost of a marketing fax is transferred to the recipient in lost time, productivity and the tying up of telecommunications equipment, as well as the additional cost of consumables such as ink and paper."

He added that even emergency services were suffering under the onslaught of telemarketing calls. "Telemarketers are bypassing emergency numbers such as 000 and directly contacting emergency service operators such as the fire brigade through the use of predictive dialling equipment. These calls divert emergency resources while the telemarketing calls are being answered."

He explained that the new legislation was not intended to impinge on business-to business communications "which are an important part of everyday business activity."

"Businesses will still be able to contact other businesses with whom they have a relationship under the current inferred consent provisions. Businesses that have given express consent to receive calls or faxes may also continue to be contacted. However, 'cold calls' and marketing faxes to businesses that do not fall under the express or inferred consent provisions in the act will be prohibited for numbers that are listed on the Do Not Call Register."

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The bill is scheduled to come into effect in the second half of 2010, six months after it receives royal assent. Albanese said the six month delay would give the telemarketing industry time to make the necessary adjustments.

Introduction of the legislation was foreshadowed in the 2009 Federal Budget, which allocated $4.7m over four years to the costs of implementing expanded coverage of the do-not-call register. Announcing the move, communications minister Stephen Conroy said: "Community consultation indicated that these telephone and fax users want protection from unsolicited commercial telemarketing and fax marketing representations.

"I have also received a number of requests directly from the public on this matter. It was particularly concerning to me that these unwanted calls and faxes are wasting business resources and adversely affecting the operation of emergency services."

He said that, of the $4.7m "approximately $3.5 million over four years will be recovered from the telemarketing and fax marketing industries through fees paid to access the Register, to cover the direct operational costs of the expanded Register."

The current DNC legislation came into effect on 1 May 2007 and by July 2009 over 3.5 million numbers had been registered. An Australian Institute survey in December 2008 found that two-thirds of respondents wanted to see telemarketing banned completely and it calculated the cost in wasted time at $1.58b per year.

The ACMA said in July 2009   that, in the 12 months to May 2009, there has been a 60 percent drop in complaints about calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Register, indicating a significant improvement in compliance by telemarketers.

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