Page 459 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008

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On one occasion or another, most of us here have probably been rung up by someone saying, “Do you want the ad to go in again next week?” I was once rung up by TransACT, who were asking whether I wanted whatever scheme it was—where you have four things in one—to continue after a two-year period expired. I said, “Yes, thank you, we are pretty happy with that.” I did not regard that as a great impost on me. I would not have had a clue off the top of my head—I do not check every single document that comes into the house on a regular basis and go back and recheck them—that the two years was up.

From what limited experience I have had in this as a consumer, it seems that, from time to time, you will be legitimately rung up asking if you want to extend. That is often very close to the end of the extension date. It concerns me when I hear that, because of this particular provision, people might lose their mobile phone number and might be put to all sorts of additional inconvenience and expense because of an unintended consequence of this bill. It is not rocket science. What has been proposed by Telstra on the face of it looks fairly sensible. It seems that the attorney and I are not necessarily at odds in relation to that.

I also think that some of the unintended consequences of this bill—the main unintended consequences that would be likely to affect a lot of consumers—could be cleared up fairly quickly. Hence I make my unusual suggestion of adjourning it. Another way might be to take this part out and come back with a substantive bill. Again, if there is any urgency in dealing with the bulk of this part 5, that could be done, I would think, within a few weeks. If there are only a couple of areas where there is a real problem for the consumer, that would be the case. If there are other areas which are a bit more esoteric or not really likely and where it is conceded that the matter is not likely to affect too many people, maybe you might spend a bit more time there.

I am concerned that what we might be doing here—for the very noblest of aims; no-one disputes that that is what part 5 is all about—will lead to a series of unintended consequences that are going to affect consumers adversely. At the end of the day, big groups like Telstra can probably rearrange how they do things, but that is probably going to have some effect on consumers. In the meantime—this bill will obviously become law; it will take effect within a few days—there will probably be tens, or maybe hundreds or thousands, of Canberra consumers who will be adversely affected here.

I do not think it is appropriate. It simply does not work in practice. It is okay if the consumer rings up and says, “Look, I want that extended; I note that I would like that ad in again” or “I note my two-year contract is about to expire and I would like it extended on the same terms.” That probably does not happen all that much. It might perhaps in the ad situation—perhaps. But in terms of longer term contracts which people are quite comfortable with and are happy with, it is a courtesy call. We get them all the time. We get them in some things where other people are probably trying to sell us something. “Do you want some more of X, Y and Z?” You say yes or no.

But in something like this—something as important as telecommunications and something as important as someone’s mobile phone—there are some significant

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