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Tuesday, 20 April 2010 15:20

Conroy promises legislation to improve consumer protection

By


Communications minister, senator Stephen Conroy, has promised to amend the Telecommunications Act to improve consumer protection.

Consumer protection is largely via industry codes, developed by the industry but given the force of law by being registered with the ACMA.

Last year Conroy initiated a review into the way that telecommunications industry consumer codes are developed. He said today that the review had been completed and that, as part of the Government's response to the review, he would "amend the Telecommunications Act, to give the minister the authority to direct ACMA to develop an industry standard, where the minister considers it appropriate to do so."

Conroy explained that "Unlike a consumer code, a consumer protection standard will be developed by the regulator, who will need to balance the interests of consumers with those of the industry. It will be directly enforceable by the ACMA and therefore, it will be a more powerful and flexible instrument."

Failure to comply with an industry standard would be subject to civil penalty provisions. Corporations would be subject to penalties of up to $250,000 and individuals to penalties of up $50,000 for each contravention.

CONTINUED

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Conroy said that the industry code development process, run by Communications Alliance "is cumbersome and inflexible because there is currently no way that a code can be varied - even for minor or urgent changes."

He promised to amend the Telecommunications Act "to allow for codes to be varied rather than replaced in their entirety," saying: "This will make codes a more flexible and responsive to consumer concerns. A new requirement that the code developer must publish submissions will make the process more transparent and the code developer more accountable.

Communications Alliance is to commence its scheduled reviews of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code, and the Mobile Premium Service Industry Code in May and Conroy said: "This is an opportunity for industry to demonstrate that the co-regulatory framework can work better, and have proper regard for the concerns of consumers. I have asked my Department, and the ACMA, to work with industry and consumer groups to produce stronger, more enforceable codes under this process."

Conroy also noted that the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009, currently held up in the Senate, contains a range of provisions to strengthen consumer protection. "It proposes to strengthen the customer service guarantee and the USO and allows for the establishment of new enforceable performance benchmarks."

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