Tue, 11 May - 21:00
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Speech to Parliament: Do Not Call Register Legislation Amendment Bill 2009

When it comes to the use of communications networks there is inevitably a balance to be struck between the convenience of being accessible to all—being able to call anybody that you like and equally being available to be called by anybody you like—and the issues that that involves in terms of exposing yourself to being available to be called by those who you may not wish to hear from.

Those issues—that are difficult to balance up—were addressed by the Howard government when then communications minister, Senator Coonan, brought forward the Do Not Call Register legislation. That introduced effective protection against consumers being interrupted in their own homes by marketing calls that they did not wish to receive. What we have seen with this bill is a rather poorly-thought-through suggestion that the same mechanism ought to be extended to business.

It is a policy intent which has been justified, unfortunately, in a rather anecdotal and emotive fashion, and without much careful and sober analysis. When you think about it, businesses are in a very different position to households. Businesses, by definition, succeed on the basis of selling and marketing their services. Therefore, it is very important that businesses have available to them the capacity to market their services. Indeed, what businesses do on a regular, daily basis as part of their core activity is communicate with each other, very often by telephone. This proposed provision to extend the operation of the Do Not Call Register to business would, if it were to proceed, have significant adverse consequences on commerce as it is carried out on a daily basis, and would do very substantial harm to many businesses.

This, unfortunately, is a fact that did not appear to have been thought about when the Rudd government decided that it would extend the application of the Do Not Call Register to businesses. The usual nanny state instinct to regulate first and think later seemed to kick in, and it is unfortunate that it was necessary for there to be quite an extensive campaign by concerned business organisations to highlight the serious adverse effects of this ill-thought-through extension of the application of the Do Not Call Register.

A substantive piece of work was commissioned from Access Economics by the Australian Direct Marketing Association. Access Economics sought to quantify in an analytical fashion the costs and benefits of the proposed extension of the Do Not Call Register. It found that it would impose some quite significant costs on all businesses including, for example, the decline in the efficiency of sales and marketing activities and the flow-through loss of revenue. Certainly, it also quantified the loss of productivity that businesses experience when they receive unwanted calls, but it made the point that this needs to be thought of in its totality. If you say to businesses, ‘You will have a significant proportion of your target business market removed from you,’ that is a material cost which needs to be weighed up against the purported benefit.

It is very clear when you analyse the position of businesses that they are in a quite different position to the position of consumers, and the proposed extension of the Do Not Call Register to businesses was not well thought through. Analysis shows that a much better position would be to say, ‘Let us not extend the Do Not Call Register to businesses; let us recognise that when you go into business you engage in the activity of selling and marketing to others and it is a perfectly reasonable part of the bargain that you are also available to be marketed to.’ It is significant that many businesses have come forward to raise precisely that concern.

We do consider it most unfortunate that the Rudd government was proposing an extension of yet another piece of interventionist regulation, a piece of regulation which was poorly thought through, which would have had significantly adverse impacts on the conduct of business and on the conduct of commerce and which would have had serious adverse economic consequences. We are pleased that that provision is now not included in the bill as it stands before this House, but we call upon the minister to acknowledge that he made a policy error in even bringing it forward and to give certainty that this matter will not be proceeded with. I certainly pay tribute to the many organisations that have worked to put the facts in front of this parliament, particularly the Australian Direct Marketing Association.