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By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Friday, 11 May 2007

Right end. Wrong means.

That’s about the kindest thing one can say for the well intentioned, but wrong headed response by the Federal government to the social misdemeanour known as unwelcome telephone calls.

I refer, of course to the launch of the Do Not Call register on May 3, 2007. If you thought that politicians, like chimpanzees, could learn from their mistakes, I’m sorry to disappoint. Politicians aren’t quite as smart as chimps.


Several years ago Telstra in its eternal search for new sources of revenue, came up with the bright (and profitable) idea of Call Number ID. This meant that your phone number was automatically sent to the person you’ve called, unless you chose to over ride this outrage. That is, you were presumed to be endowed with no privacy unless you choose to fight for it. And to remember to fight for it every time you called.

Last week’s announcement by the Minister for Communications to reduce the public’s harassment by telemarketers is good. But why did the Senator chose a “Do Not Call” approach?

Senator Coonan’s DNC register mirrors similar legislation in the United States in dealing with those who would ruin our evenings and weekends with unseemly, unwarranted and thoroughly uninvited disturbances from call centres - stretching from Lucknow in India to Limerick in Eire - promoting this product or selling that service.

In June 2003, the US Federal Communication Commission after fielding more complaints than you can wave a Calicutt call centre at, established a national Do-Not-Call Registry. The registry covers the country, applies to all callers, with some exceptions such as certain non-profit organisations; political parties (surprise, surprise); government agencies; charities; organisations with which you have established a business relationship; such as your bank; calls for which you have given prior written permission and non-commercial calls such as your local council surveying your use of parks. Commercial telemarketers are forbidden, yes forbidden, to harass you if your number has been on the registry for at least 31 days, subject, again to certain exceptions. And they must only harass you during specific times.

By registering their phone numbers, consumers can, if they so choose, reduce (but sadly not eliminate) the number of unwanted phone calls to their homes.

The American process is very simple. You register your number for free. It will remain on the national DNC list for five years. After five years you can re-list your number. You can remove your number from the list at any time.


It’s not perfect, but hey, it’s a great start.

“Marketers”, the collective noun for those engaged in tele-harassment, are forced to search the registry at least once every 30 days and drop from their database those phone numbers that have been registered. No ifs and no buts about it. The American DNC register also demands marketers transmit their phone numbers (and names in some cases) so as these details can be viewed on the hapless consumer’s caller ID device.

It seems that Senator Helen Coonan’s Do Not Call register is very, very similar in scope to the American initiative. So similar in fact, that her register even sports the very same domain name - albeit with an “au” suffix - as is used in the US.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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