Centre Alliance bill will let people block unwanted political texts and charity calls

13 February 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff will today introduce a bill to give people more control over nuisance calls and texts – such as Clive Palmer’s recent spam SMS.

Under the bill, texts from political parties and candidates would have to contain an “unsubscribe” function – a neat and simple solution for people annoyed or angered at receiving these unsolicited texts.

The bill will also allow people on the Do Not Call Register to opt out of further cold calls from charities.

ACMA regularly fields complaints about unsolicited calls and texts, but in the case of charities and political parties it is largely powerless to act because they enjoy exemptions from the restrictions imposed by the Do Not Call Register Act and the Spam Act.

The bill also seeks to ensure more honest telephone campaigning during elections, by ensuring that the use of actors in voice calls is disclosed at the outset.

“This bill gives back some power to the people,” Senator Griff says.

“We all value the work of charities and recognise they must fundraise, and of course the freedom of political communication must be protected, but I think we need to do more to balance this against the rights of consumers to avoid what they consider nuisance communication.”

A 2017 survey published by ACMA, Telemarketing calls in Australia: Consumer experience research, found cold calls from charities were the most common type of telemarketing call received on landlines, and that almost half of all those surveyed found telemarketing calls from charities to be “a problem”. 

Another survey, conducted by CHOICE in 2016, found charities to be the main source of unwanted calls. Its Who’s on the Line report found 74% of respondents thought charities should not be allowed to call numbers on the Do Not Call Register, and 88% agreed with the statement, “I wish there was more I could do to stop these unsolicited calls”.

The bill will assist people who find it difficult to terminate a phone call with a charity or withstand requests for donations, by allowing them to advise ACMA that their number is not a "charity-contactable number".

By requiring consumers on the Register to ‘opt out’ of receiving telemarketing calls from charities - as opposed to making them ‘opt in’ to receiving calls – it is expected that charity fundraising will not be unduly impacted as it would mostly be people who are distressed or annoyed by charity telemarketing calls who would be motivated to take that action.

While the bill allows voters to unsubscribe from spam electoral texts, it does not contain a similar opt out provision for political parties and candidates because the public is much more comfortable - happy even - hanging up on these calls than they are about terminating a charity call.

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