While I agree with Chris Connolly that the amended Australian Direct
Marketing Association code which the ACCC approved today is
significantly different from what ADMA first proposed, I believe that
in all important respects, ADMA got exactly what they wanted:
Government approval of a code with minimal consumer protections, not
just in their field of direct mail, but also in telemarketing and
electronic commerce - two fields in which they have virtually no
coverage or expertise.  (ADMA still doesn't have a public email

I believe this is a debacle.   I believe the ACCC *has* rolled over.
Not as quickly as at first - but in the end they merely tinkered with
the details of ADMA's cynical and incompetently drafted "code", and
then approved it.

The ACCC's own determination contains more than enough reasons why
they should have rejected this code outright in respect of
telemarketing and e-commerce.

If the ACCC had restricted the code to direct mail, with the various
improvements regarding compliance, then I would describe this as a
major win for consumers.

This bad outcome is no reflection on the advocates.  I think that
collectively we did an *excellent* job of detailing the many failings
of ADMA's shabby scheme.  The problem lies entirely with the ACCC,
which has used some of our input to improve a few details of the code,
and then ignored the rest of our fundamental criticisms.

I do not have time or energy to write a detailed critique of the
ACCC's determination.  I intend to put it and my final submission on
my web site soon:


This ADMA debacle signals the end of my involvement in consumer

Since 1992 I have worked very hard, and I believe in terms of
communication, submissions and ideas, very "effectively" on a number
of campaigns.  I am one of a number of highly motivated and similarly
"effective" advocates in the privacy, freedom of speech and consumer

Perhaps in other campaigns the effectiveness has been translated into
results, but in the fields I have worked in the outcomes have all been
worst-case.  Therefore the effort on these issues has been entirely
(or almost entirely) a waste of time:

1 - Telemarketing

2 - Calling Number Display

3 - Internet censorship

4 - Cryptography (to a lesser extent)

Today we have a worst-case government response on telemarketing -
approval for open-slather telemarketing with no effective opt-out

The Calling Number Display outcome is similarly worst-case.  The
service is widely promoted without any information about opting out,
and most people are unaware their number is being sold.  Most people
don't even know what a reverse directory is.

The Internet censorship situation is worst-case too.

The cryptography situation is close to worst-case - but ultimately no
government can win a against the need for and free availability of
strong cryptography.

So the great bulk of my consumer advocacy efforts over the years have
produced no tangible result.  I am involved in a number of other
fields in which my efforts *do* produce tangible results, are very
much appreciated and in many cases are paid for as well.  That is what
I will be concentrating on in the future.

I do not wish to discourage other advocates from continuing the good
fight, but at this point I have to cut my losses.

I hope that Chris and others appeal this decision.  On telemarketing,
there are many clear reasons why the ACCC's final assesement is at
odds with all the evidence.  For instance their statement about there
being no evidence that consumers are not joining ADMA's opt-out scheme
due to privacy concerns is easily proven by showing how few consumers
are currently in it (a few thousand perhaps) compared to the 70+% who
entirely reject telemarketing.

For my own sanity, I have to set a limit - and I will not be involved
in any further work on this issue, or any other.  I can still add
things to the web site, and all that material will remain - more than
enough ammo to demolish the ACCC's spineless compliance with ADMA in

There are systematic reasons for these failures in the advocacy issues
I happen to have been involved in.  I think the most important chain
of events is:

1 - An effective majority of people vote for a federal government
    which is ideologically opposed to consumer protection.  Basically,
    the Liberal party (despite its lofty, formally stated principles)
    sees the world as being composed of two types of people:

    a - The stalwart people who run businesses.

    b - The riff-raff - who should be kept ignorant and powerless
        in order that they be a source of cheap labour, ready
        consumers of the products and services of business and to
        provide a strong tax-base.

2 - Once a government like this is installed, and its priorities
    filter through to the regulatory agencies, then the rapacious
    (and sometimes self-destructive) hunting and herding
    instincts of the marketing people are unconstrained, and
    consumers are like fish in a barrel.   All the most thorough
    and detailed consumer advocacy will be considered, and then
    largely ignored.  Later, consumers will be said to have been

There must be reasons why people vote for such destructive

One is that some people are greedy and aspire to an upper-middle-class
lifestyle - and they think that a greedy, socially divisive government
will help them.  A second element is that many people are incapable of
discerning between strong, wise, principled leaders and those who are
strong only in terms of belligerence, bravado and puffery.  (All
parties have suffered from leaders driven by ego, rather than

If we had a decent government, then we wouldn't need volunteer
consumer advocates.

It is a primary responsibility of government to systematically protect
citizens from threats (such as hostile foreign powers, telemarketers
and terrorists) which the citizens cannot protect themselves from on
an individual basis.  This is pretty obvious to me - why else would we
bother with governments?  I argued the case for this exhaustively to
the Senate IT Committee, because I thaught they had not understood.


At some stage, a sufficient proportion of the population will learn or
relearn the truth about the priorities of current Federal government
(not that all Labor governments are perfect) and there will be a new
government.  If the alternative government is principled and wise,
then the outcome for consumers will improve.  The dangers include it
being badly lead, that it will be too conciliatory to rapacious
business demands and that it will seek to claim the "middle-ground" by
adopting many policies of its opponents.

In the US today, many people get two or more telmarketing calls at
home each day.  That would drive people slowly, but surely, mad.  As
telecommunications costs drop, things could get this bad here.

I remain optimistic that Australians will not allow this degeneration
to occur, but I admit that I have no concrete basis for this optimism.

I live in hope that the Labor party will adopt a core election promise
of the eradication of telemarketing - and be swept into office!

In the meantime, consumer advocates will be keeping the flame alive -
the flame of a principled, caring society - even if every battle ends
in defeat.

- Robin


Robin Whittle    rw@firstpr.com.au  http://www.firstpr.com.au
                 Heidelberg Heights, Melbourne, Australia

First Principles Research and expression: Consulting and
                 technical writing. Music. Internet music
                 marketing. Telecommunications. Consumer
                 advocacy in telecommunications, especially
                 privacy. M-F relationships. Kinetic sculpture.
Real World       Electronics and software for music including:
Interfaces       Devil Fish mods for the TB-303, Akai sampler
                 memory and Csound synthesis software.