Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013

Speech – Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013

Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation to such high office. I can think of no better person to occupy that office.

I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013. The Labor Party introduced this legislation when in government and we support it in opposition.

The amendments being made by this bill will enhance the operational efficiency of the Do Not Call Register; simplify the processes for updating industry codes and increase the transparency of processes to develop industry codes; and provide greater clarity around the role of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, its standards of operation, and processes for regular review.

The various amendments in the bill are not contentious and they have the support of industry, of regulatory authorities and of consumer representatives.

After the bill was first introduced into this place it was passed by the House, and then the Senate referred the bill to the Senate Environment and Communications Committee. That occurred earlier this year, and the committee reported in late June of this year.

Six submissions were made to the committee, and the submitters were broadly in favour of the measures in the previous bill. I think the Senate committee recommended one amendment, which is incorporated in this legislation.

This bill reflects the continuing importance of consumer protection regulation in telecommunications.

The amendments the bill makes are designed to enhance the ability of the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, to enforce the operation of the Do Not Call Register—a register that is now in place in large part because of the sustained and continued campaigning by the member for Chisholm in this place.

I should make this point: the government has announced that it intends to proceed with an agenda to remove the burden of regulation, and it has made the point that it intends to have a regulation repeal day early in 2014 dedicated to removing regulation that is considered burdensome or redundant.

The government has indicated that its measurement methodology will be based on the Victorian government’s methodology. This methodology focuses on costs and does not focus on social outcomes of regulation. So it would be of great concern if the Do Not Call Register is identified as a regulatory burden because of the compliance costs of checking call lists against it.

The other two sets of amendments in this bill apply to protections for consumers of telecommunication services.

All members of this House would be familiar with stories of telco providers’ service failures. The industry has been criticised for plans that are very difficult to understand—roaming fees, bill shock and customer service failures.

The conversations that I have had with telcos since becoming the shadow minister for communications indicate to me that they are committed to improving their customer service. This commitment has been underpinned by the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and the regulator, ACMA. The development of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code was a major step forward. It included, for the first time, a comprehensive compliance regime.

These amendments, which permit industry codes to be amended rather than fully remade, will make it possible now for this code and other codes to be more effective. New problems and issues will be able to be quickly addressed by code amendment, and the industry must ensure that this occurs.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme is effective in providing recourse for consumers who are unable to resolve issues with their provider, but it has been slow to adapt to new issues and address governance challenges. The clear specification of standards of operation and the requirement for regular reviews in this legislation will ensure that it continues to be effective in the future.

Reduction of regulatory burden is a goal that we share with the government, but it must not come at the expense of removing important protections for consumers.

The amendments in this bill are an example of how effective regulatory review can be achieved, and I commend this legislation to the House.