18 September 2019


ROWLAND: My question is to the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. I refer to the government's decision to scrap the use of CapTel as part of the National Relay Service, which, through text relay, helps deaf Australians to make and receive telephone calls. Why must Patricia Woods, who is deaf and is 88 years old, now learn to use a different technology, instead of her CapTel handset, to contact triple 0?

FLETCHER, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, CYBER SAFETY AND THE ARTS: I thank the member for her question. I make the point that the National Relay Service is a very important communication service for Australians who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. The National Relay Service is delivered through a range of technologies and devices, one of which is the one that the member has cited, but it is delivered through a whole range of different devices. Can I make it clear that all existing relay channels will continue to be available for NRS users, with the exception of the one device that the member has mentioned. I want to make it clear that the government is absolutely agnostic about the services provided through the National Relay Service. The owner of the particular device the member has mentioned has cited an exclusive agreement with the existing relay service provider. But, of course, if that rights owner is interested in speaking with the Australian government, then we remain interested in speaking to them.

I correct particularly one extremely misleading claim the member has made, and it is very disappointing that the member would seek to create alarm and distress. Media reports claiming that the making of an emergency services call through the National Relay Service is difficult are misleading. Users of a TTY device can dial 106, which provides a direct connection to emergency services, through the National Relay Service relay officer. In the last financial year, there were over 1,500 calls to emergency services from National Relay Service users. All were successfully connected to the appropriate emergency service.

I repeat the point that the National Relay Service is continuing. It is a very important service for Australians who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. It is delivered through a whole range of devices. There will continue to be $22 million a year being spent on the provision of this vital service in order to ensure that Australians who are deaf, hearing impaired or speech impaired can continue to make effective use of our telephone system.

THE SPEAKER: Before I call on the next question, I'm just going to remind those asking questions that, whilst there are a number of rules for questions that are applied quite liberally, let's be honest, in the history of this place, one of the rules for questions is—and it's at 100(d)(i):

Questions must not contain—

and I won't read the whole thing—

… names of persons, unless they can be authenticated and are strictly necessary to make the question intelligible.

I'm just going to warn those asking questions. There have been two questions on this occasion. The names of people weren't required, okay, to make them intelligible, and in fact I'll rule questions out if I believe I've been deliberately ignored. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.

BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Mr Speaker, I don't have the Practice in front of me, but I just wanted to confirm my understanding of those rules—that names are allowed if the member can authenticate them and that, if a member is willing to personally vouch for the accuracy of it, it counts.

THE SPEAKER: Yes, it also says—that's true—

… unless they can be authenticated and are strictly necessary to make the question intelligible.

It's the last part of that standing order. I think it's there for good reason. Really what it turns on is: do you actually need the name to ask the question? I don't believe that's been the case with those two, and I just wanted to raise it with the House.