But despite the review — undertaken by the Department of Communications starting in 2015 under then Minister for communications Malcolm Turnbull — finding an urgent need for reform of the ACMA, it has effectively put off until a later date a programme of reform of the wider communications industry sector.
The review has, instead, recommended that the Government “commence” — but with no date set — a regulatory reform programme to establish a “contemporary communications regulatory framework”.
While finding that the ACMA has “generally performed its regulatory role efficiently and well over the last ten years”, the DoC review says ACMA’s remit, responsibilities and functions lack clarity and cohesion and its regulatory and performance objectives are unclear.
“These have made the ACMA’s job increasingly difficult in making regulatory judgments and the allocation of its resources, resulting in some frustration for the regulator and the industry.”
The review makes key recommendations for reform of the ACMA, in the first instance, including:
- Clarifying the remit of the regulator to set the boundaries of its regulatory responsibility and oversight;
- A number of changes to the functions of the regulator;
- Clearer formal advice from the Government to the ACMA on its expectations, within the boundaries of its statutory independence, and reporting by the ACMA on its delivery against these;
- New governance arrangements involving a “commission” model of full-time, specialist members supported by associate members and sub-boards; and
- Embedding in its establishing legislation a series of regulator principles to guide performance.
According to the review, these changes will also result in greater alignment with arrangements for, and processes of other domestic regulators, such as the ACCC, while also reflecting best practice examples from international regulators.
In its reaction to the review, the Communications Alliance has called on the government to move quickly to implement the recommendations of its review of the ACMA to give certainty and direction to the regulator.
CA chief executive John Stanton said moves to strengthen the Authority through more full-time members, provide for the Deputy-Chair to take on more of a CEO-like role, set clearer objectives for the regulator and press for greater self-regulation, are all positive steps.
But Stanton was critical of the time taken to get to this stage.
“Government should move expeditiously to put new arrangements in place, given the long period of organisational 'limbo' within which the ACMA has had to operate.
"It is almost two years since the review was announced and almost exactly one year since the recommendations were published.”