Telcos call for quick action on ACMA reform

Government backs changes to comms regulator

The government should move quickly to implement the recommendations of the review into the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), telco industry body Communications Alliance said today.

Communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield today announced that the government supports or supports in principle all 27 recommends made in the final report of the ACMA review.

The “root and branch” review was launched in mid-2015.

The report concluded that “the ACMA has generally performed its regulatory role efficiently and well” since it was founded in 2005.

However. it adds that “against the backdrop of a rapidly changing communications sector, its remit, responsibilities and functions lack clarity and cohesion and its regulatory and performance objectives are unclear”.

“There is a lack of clarity as to decisions which are best made by the regulator and those which are policy decisions for the government, particularly in areas that are increasingly contested such as spectrum allocation. These have made the ACMA’s job increasingly difficult in making regulatory judgements and the allocation of its resources, resulting in some frustration for the regulator and the industry.”

“The importance of the communications sector to the Australian economy, its centrality to the lives
of consumers and businesses and the rapid structural change it is undergoing, require a regulator
that is certain of its remit and functions, can act quickly and decisively, is well-informed, can be
agile and has the confidence of stakeholders.”

Fifield said the government will redesign governance arrangements for the communications regulator. Changes to the ACMA will “provide for greater transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the regulator's day-to-day and strategic activities. Implementation of these changes is already underway.”

Changes to the ACMA’s governance model will see the appointment of at least five full-time members, including the chair and deputy chair, and there will be “clear skill-set and expertise requirements”. The agency’s deputy chair will act as its CEO and take charge of day-to-day management, with the ACMA chair focused on strategy, stakeholder management and decision making, Fifield said.

The organisation’s cyber security programs will be shifted to the Attorney‑General’s Department (AGD), while the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research will be the lead government agency for research about emerging market trends.

Other changes include potentially shifting a range functions to industry, such as technical standards, the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND), the Do Not Call Register (DNCR) and dealing with spam to industry to manage.

The government said that work on implementing some of the recommendations, for example the shift of ACMA cyber security programs to the AGD, was already under way.

"Moves to strengthen the authority through more full-time members, provide for the deputy chair to take on more of a CEO-like role, set clearer objectives for the regulator and press for greater self-regulation are all positive steps,” Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

“But government should move expeditiously to put new arrangements in place, given the long period of organisational 'limbo' within which the ACMA has had to operate.”

The ACMA has been operating in a “very uncertain” environment, Stanton said.

The shadow minister for communications, Michelle Rowland, questioned why it had taken so long for the government to release the review.

“Malcolm Turnbull commenced the ACMA Review on 12 June 2015 in the midst of a deregulatory fervour,” a statement issued by Rowland’s office said.

“Of course, this review was inevitably caught in the ‘Fifield Triangle’ — a mysterious vortex of drift — which has the undeniable effect of slowing down processes for years at a time.

“The underlying problem was that this government never really knew why it commenced the ACMA review in the first place, and neither did stakeholders. It was genuine reform that was needed first, because that would enable the design of a regulator to better promote the objectives of principles-based legislation.”

Rowland said that Labor would examine the recommendations in the review’s final report.

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