Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013

Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (13:26): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013 today and to indicate that I will be supporting the bill. I will briefly reflect on the comments of the previous member about the broad purpose of the bill before us, which is to put in place three amendments related to consumer protections in the telecommunications sector.

The first amendments are, obviously, to improve the efficiency of the Do Not Call Register Act. Can I put on record at this point my congratulations to former Speaker Anna Burke, who originally started the process to establish a Do Not Call Register, doing a lot of work as a backbench member of the opposition at the time. The purpose of the Do Not Call Register Act was to regulate unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls. It is well recorded—and indeed the previous member made this point—that vulnerable people were particularly harassed by those sorts of unsolicited calls. The register provides that a person must not make, or cause to be made, a telemarketing call to an Australian number if that number is registered on the Do Not Call Register, and the call is not a designated telemarketing call. The explanatory memorandum to the bill indicates that a problem had arisen, and this amendment seeks to redress that. To use the direct words, it says:

In some instances, the ACMA has encountered difficulty in establishing evidentiary links between the first person and the other party providing the telemarketing and/or fax marketing services. This has commonly arisen because agreements between the parties relate to the sale and/or marketing of the first person’s goods or services without any specific reference to the means by which the goods or services are to be sold and/or marketed.

Amendments are proposed to address that problem.

Amendments are also proposed to streamline the process for developing and amending industry codes under part 6 of the act. This is to be achieved by: firstly, enabling industry codes to be varied rather than requiring that they be wholly removed; secondly, extending the application of the reimbursement scheme for developing consumer related codes so that it also applies to varying such consumer related industry codes; and, thirdly, requiring code developers to conduct transparent and accountable code development processes, specifically by publishing on their websites draft codes and variations, and any submissions received about them.

The amendments also go to the improvement of the operation of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme, by providing greater clarity about the ombudsman's role and expected standards of operation, by requiring the TIO scheme to comply with standards determined by the minister, and by requiring periodic public reviews of the scheme conducted by a person or body independent of the TIO and the telecommunications industry. The protection of consumer rights is very important, particularly in a very fast-developing sector such as telecommunications. I know the shadow parliamentary secretary at the table with me, the member for Chifley, has put a lot of his own time and energy into looking at this issue.

It is an issue that is very pertinent to people in all our electorates, so I want to take this opportunity to talk about an area of telecommunications service on which I—and, I am sure, many members of this House—have received significant complaints over time, but particularly since the election: the provision of broadband services. With the member for Throsby, I was particularly concerned to see, not so long ago, that there had been a significant change to the information provided on the NBN Co. site about the progress of the rollout of the national broadband network.

People in many suburbs in my area had been able to look on the map on the NBN Co. site and see where they sat in terms of the framework rollout—whether they were in the area for programs to be commenced within one year, in an area which would commence within three years, or in an area which would be commenced post that time: more than three years but within the overall build time. I was lobbied by lots of people who were not in the one-year or the three-year programs, saying that they wanted to be fast tracked. People were very supportive of the construction rollout and just wanted to see it happen even more quickly in their areas.

In some sort of Machiavellian interpretation of the word 'transparency', everything has now disappeared. As I said before, it is as if the government believes that invisibility is the ultimate form of transparency. It is actually completely the opposite. Not providing any information is not being more accountable to the population, and I have had quite a lot of complaints.

Whole suburbs across my area—Woonona, Russell Vale, Corrimal, Bellambi, Tarrawanna, Fairy Meadow, Fernhill, Towradgi, Balgownie, Kembla Grange, Wongawilli, Horsley, Marshall Mount, Penrose, Dapto, Wollongong, West Wollongong, Mangerton, Mount Keira, Keiraville, Gwynneville, Mount Saint Thomas, and Coniston—were previously on maps, so that residents could see where the construction was programmed to start, and hold me accountable as the local member for that commencement going ahead. Now they look at the map and they see nothing. They have no idea what the current proposal is. As a result of this, as members may be aware, there has been a national petition underway, online. It has been run by the NBN defence group.

Many residents came to see me about this in late November. I think it was on 26 November. They brought to me a copy of the petition which, at that point, had 270,640 signatures from across the nation. A freelance graphic designer—one of my local constituents, Marina Varda—came along with a number of other constituents to present the petition to me and to ask me to raise the matter in the parliament. I am absolutely happy to do so on their behalf today. The petition was set up by a 20-year-old student Nick Paine through change.org, and it is to Minister for Communications, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, asking him to consider the coalition's policy.

I acknowledge the former member for Gilmore, who is in the gallery—in the heavens above us. It is lovely to see Joanna Gash, again.

The petition is provided to members on a disc and I just want to put on the record of the House some of the comments by my local constituents about their concerns about this broadband decision. Local petitioners in my area are very unhappy, in many cases, with their current broadband service, and were particularly looking forward to getting fibre to the home. Brendan says:

A full fibre NBN for all Australians is critical for improving the productivity of Australia's digital economy, competitiveness, social services, and community inclusion. It has the potential to transform our country for the better. It just makes sense.

Evan says:

Tony Abbotts plan is in the end going to cost more because what he is proposing to put in place is just going to have to be removed later on down the track, when the speeds it provides are not viable for Australia's growing online requirements.

Jack says:

Because I already suffer under the terrible quality copper that exists now. When it rains my internet dies. Copper is not the future and will not be cheaper in the long run, The LNP need to stop kidding themselves.

Danny says:

As a Liberal Party member, I believe that faster internet is the best way to engage the world, especially Asia through business, to help create a better economy for Australia.

Ryan says.

Fast internet is absolutely vital to Australia's long-term growth. Fast internet means a better economy, better education, better health, more innovation, and maintaining an edge in a competitive world.

Phill says:

The NBN is a core piece of infrastructure in the future of Australia. The internet becomes more and more important every day, we need to set ourselves up now to take advantage of any opportunity that this advancing technology represents.

William says:

FTTH gives fibre access to everyone not just the rich who can afford it.

Rosalind says:

If you are going to do something, do it right! You might gain some of my respect, too, and the respect of a lot more people.

Matthew says:

Australia is years behind in technology when compared to many other countries of a similar economic strength. Without a proper fibre infrastructure we will continue to slip until this becomes a serious threat to our economic standing. The FTTN plan is purely a measure to make it seem like the government are making progress. If you have any knowledge of network construction you realize that the data speed to the node is irrelevant if it hits a bottleneck caused by the existing archaic copper cable infrastructure.

Jesse says:

Investing in the internet is a fantastic way to bring Australia's education and business environments closer to a par with the rest of the world.

Guy says:

My current copper network connection is not capable of supplying ADSL2 speeds let alone supporting high speed internet.

Diana says:

This is important to me as an educator. Our children and their children deserve access to the best; it is we who pay for it and we want them to have every advantage. Not just our children but their children as well. We are behind when it comes to technology and our country will only be able to compete, on an equal footing, on the international stage when we have state of the art facilities driving our ability to do so.

Nicola says:

My partner is a sole trader working from home and relies on the net. We need a premium service.

Frederick:

As a scientific researcher I am required to download vast amounts of data, and currently have to do that at the office and cannot work from home due to exceptionally slow and expensive internet. My work and that of countless others would be made so much easier by having Internet at a reasonable speed and price as is in the rest of the world.

Jordan:

I live in an area where the current copper network can only handle a limited number of ADSL connections. I'm not one of the lucky ones. Currently I have to make do with extremely expensive internet via 3G connection that is unstable. I need the internet for homework. Oh, and I aspire to become a programmer, and a lot of the resources that help me to gain the knowledge is online. On top of that my family are heavy internet users.

Christel says:

Australia needs to step up a notch and digital media is vital to work, study and Education.

Rob says:

I work from Home and have an increasing need for high quality, high speed broadband.

David says:

I'm currently in the final stages of a computer science degree and the University of Wollongong. As such, this issue directly influences my career, and in turn, my whole life.

James says:

I am doing computer science at university of Wollongong and knowing a bit about computers i believe the FTTH would be a more feasible plan. we are getting left behind from the rest of the world, and the power of internet is very important for our future.

Samual says:

If we get this infrastructure right it will provide opportunity and innovation which might not be as feasible under a less superior network. Network loads are only set to increase, we will need it one day.

Daniel says:

I am an IT professional who needs to compete on a global stage that already has fibre internet (e.g. singapore).

David says:

I run an Architectural practice in suburban Wollongong and work from home so that I may also care for my two children. I often spend a day or two without any internet access as the pits are flooded and connections are dodgy on the existing copper network. FTTN will not fix this. Furthermore it seems myopic to spend at least 2/3 of the money to and garner the ongoing expense of powering and maintaining all these nodes, for a solution that has 1/8 of the performance and no expandability. If I ran my business with those principles I would get laughed out of town.

Christopher says:

… because the area I'm in I can't even get adsl2 so the whole infrastructure in this area needs to be updated not just to the node.

There are pages and pages of comments from Wollongong region constituents on this petition, outlining not only their dissatisfaction with their current broadband technology, infrastructure and price but also their great disappointment that fibre-to-the-premises NBN construction is not proceeding. So I am very happy to recognise our almost 200 candidate locals who identified by their suburb that they live in my area. Many Australians signed the petition just listing their location as 'Australia', so there could be more from my region—it is hard to identify how many. But this is clearly an issue for regional Australia and clearly an important piece of infrastructure that people are very unhappy about.

I do not anticipate the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman will be very thrilled at the number of complaints that they may continue to get as people find the old copper network continuing to fail them and not living up to the modern world's needs. So I commend the bill to the House, but I also commend the locals who have taken the opportunity to express this view. I hope they succeed in changing the communications minister's mind.

Do you like this post?