New peak representative body for telecoms consumers

Senator Conroy wants to turn up the volume of consumer voice in the telecommunications sector.

Following his concerns over consumer representation in the communications sector, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, announced funding this week to assist in the proposal for the establishment of a new telecommunications consumer peak body.

"The Government wants to give consumers a more powerful and effective voice in the development of telecommunications policy," Senator Conroy said.

"To demonstrate our commitment to strengthening the consumer voice I have provided a grant of $87,000 to the Consumers' Telecommunications Network (CTN) on behalf of the working group of consumer representation bodies."

The CTN is a national coalition of consumer and community organisations and individuals that represent community interests in the national policy area on telecommunications issues.

CTN's executive director, Teresa Corbin, said that Senator Conroy made it clear at the ATUG Consumer Representation Stakeholder forum on 1 May 2008 that he was concerned about problems in the communications industry relating to the ability of consumers to have their voices heard.

"Ultimately what we've found, and the government now agrees with us, is that consumer voice has ended up being fragmented. You've had less collective advocacy, less unified positions and less ability to get out and inform consumers about what is going on," Corbin said.

Since the ATUG forum Corbin said the working group of various telecommunications consumer groups had been setup, and the principal agreement among them was that a new peak consumer body should be formed.

CTN will co-ordinate the forming of the entity, using the $87,000 grant to develop a constitution, objectives and purposes for the new peak body, as well as building a brand, logo and Web site.

"CTN will act as the co-ordinating body to ensure the smooth transition to the new strengthened body," Senator Conroy said.

"There are many practical considerations to setting up a new body such as this. Some are particularly difficult for not-for-profit organisations such as those charged with this task."

Corbin said at this stage CTN is looking at a number of telecommunications representation groups to form the new peak body. These include CTN, Tedicore - a telecommunications disability representation group, and the small business representation group SETEL.

"We're looking at those organisations to form the core of the new peak body," she said.

"We have to prepare a proposal for the Minister by the end of July, so that's what this funding is going towards. We have to get our consumer groups and all our constituencies to support that proposal so that it's not just something that is imposed from above but something that has really come from the community. So there's consultation in all directions."

Corbin said CTN will discover whether Conroy supports the proposal over the next 6 weeks.

"After July we'll get some sort of idea form the Minister on whether he supports the proposal, then he'll take it forward to Cabinet, and then the hope is that we'll get some funding in the May federal budget. Then we'll actually form the new peak body before next year, but it won't be funded until 2009, that's the hope," she said

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Andrew Hendry

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