On Friday 24 March 2017 the Wireless Institute of Australia was mentioned in the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee when the Opposition Whip in the Senate, Senator Anne Urquhart, Senator for Tasmania started asking questions of the ACMA and the Minister.
During the process which involved many questions - among others about spectrum management and number porting - the Senator asked questions about the Deed between the ACMA and the Wireless Institute of Australia.
Senator URQUHART: Thank you. Can you also tell me about the deed of arrangement that you have with the Wireless Institute of Australia for amateur radio accreditation. When was it commenced and for what purposes?
Mr Bean : Once again, I do not have all of the details of that with me. I can provide these details on notice or I can ask Mr Tanner to give a short summary.
Senator URQUHART: If there is someone here, that would be great.
Mr Tanner : There are certain types of radio communications licence that come with training requirements. You mentioned the Australian Maritime College. That is a training provider that addresses the qualifications required by certain types of licence user—for example, in the maritime sector. The same is the case in the amateur licensing sphere. There are certain requirements or qualifications that users of amateur licences need to hold. The ACMA has a delegation to the Wireless Institute of Australia in connection with the examination and accreditation of amateur users.
Senator URQUHART: Does the deed of arrangement set out governance and reporting standards or requirements for the WIA to meet?
Mr Tanner : Yes, it does.
Senator URQUHART: What are they required to report to the ACMA under that deed?
Mr Tanner : There are a number of requirements, but I am afraid I would have to provide them on notice. I do not have a brief handy on that.
Senator URQUHART: Do you have any idea?
Mr Tanner : I would have to take it on notice.
Senator URQUHART: What arrangements does the ACMA have in place to satisfy itself that the governance and licensing arrangements at the WIA are appropriate? Are there any processes? Are they documented? Are the documents publicly available? For example, are minutes of meetings documented—those sorts of things?
Mr Tanner : I am not sure about minutes of meetings. However, as with other contracts for provision of services, there are reporting requirements and other requirements on the WIA, and those reports are duly solicited and considered. Any questions or problems are pursued. I should also make the point, perhaps with particular reference to the amateur community, that any complaints from third parties are also carefully investigated.
Senator URQUHART: Is the ACMA aware of concerns about governance and financial processes at the WIA?
For example, the WIA website currently publishes a number of fact sheets stating that claims that WIA is in trouble with ASIC and ACMA are without foundation. They claim:
Some WIA members have noted accusations and criticisms on social media and elsewhere, and asked that the WIA Board make detailed responses to these issues.
… many issues are either exaggerated, misrepresented, or without foundation. Some statements are totally inaccurate.
Mr Tanner : The ACMA is well aware that there is a lot of contention within the amateur community around the WIA. There are a number of individuals and, I believe, a group that are active in seeking changes in the WIA. I express no comment on that; the WIA is an independent organisation. I am also aware that the complaints, accusations and charges potentially touch on several jurisdictions—ASIC, because WIA is incorporated in a particular way, and potentially other agencies. I do not want to speculate about that. The issue which is of particular relevance to us is WIA's performance under its contract with us, to the extent that issues raised in these disputes within the amateur community and within WIA bear on that. We have been very active in monitoring and investigating that.
Senator URQUHART: At what level are these considered? Are they considered at an authority level?
Mr Tanner : I have taken an interest in those from time to time, as appropriate, and I have kept my full-time members informed when appropriate. I am not aware that the authority has formally considered any proposition or proposal about this. Certainly, I take an active interest, and I am the senior public servant in that area.
Senator URQUHART: Has the ACMA undertaken any investigation of these issues, either formally or informally?
Mr Tanner : We have, as I said, assiduously followed up the dimensions of these complaints and concerns that bear on WIA's contractual relationship. I need to make clear that WIA is an independent body. It is not constituted by us, not a licensee and so on and so forth. It is, however, an agency with which we have entrusted a key contract for delivery of services. We do have a vital interest in the effective discharge of those services and we take that very seriously. This is perhaps sometimes a difficult message to get across to the amateur community. There is a lot of contention in the community, I think it would be fair to say, and a great wish to find some sort of agency that will deliver a review with particular terms of reference that bear on the grievances and concerns that people have. Our concern is focused very much on the services that are discharged by WIA. That is not necessarily the same, although it overlaps with the concerns that you will encounter if you tap into the debates inside the amateur community—if I could put it that way.
Senator URQUHART: What confidence does the ACMA have that the WIA is administering its functions with respect to amateur licensing properly? Do you have confidence that they are actually doing that?
Mr Tanner : That is a very high-level question; I will give you a very high-level answer. I have not, to date, been shown material information that would suggest that there is a fundamental problem. There are issues in terms of their obligations under the contract that we have been active in pursuing with WIA, but I would not infer from that that there is some fundamental breakdown in the delivery of services. It is an issue that we are very alive to and we are continuing to follow up on.
Senator URQUHART: Is the ACMA satisfied that amateur licences are being issued to appropriately qualified people? Is there any substance to the claim that there are people getting amateur licences who actually are not qualified to hold them under Australian standards?
Mr Tanner : That is not a claim that I am aware we have investigated.
Senator URQUHART: Are you satisfied that the licences that are being provided are being provided to adequately qualified people?
Mr Tanner : I would put it at a somewhat different level. I am not aware of any systemic problem with the performance or behaviour of the amateur community—which might, for example, manifest as mischief, interference or failure to operate in accordance with rules which are designed to protect other radio users—that would suggest to me that the training process is broken. Not at all.
Senator URQUHART: Would you be concerned that there might be licences being issued to inappropriately qualified people?
Mr Tanner : Naturally it would concern me if the processes we have put in place were not effective in ensuring that people had appropriate training before they use radios—of course.
Senator URQUHART: What is the ACMA doing to foster and improve standards of practice at the WIA? Do you have a role in working with them to try and improve standards of practice?
Mr Tanner : I think I have already indicated what our role is. By accepting a tender from WIA for the provision of what are critical services, albeit services which we think are well suited to provision by third parties, we have entrusted a significant responsibility to WIA, and we are very determined to ensure that that is discharged properly. I would make a point—one of the governance checks on the tendering out of this type of service is that the tenders are only given for a certain period. The current tender will come to an end before the end of this decade, and it is coming up quite shortly that the ACMA is going to have to consider what it will do going forward. That may or may not occur against the backdrop of changes to law as well, so, while it is not imminent, the fact is it is coming up quite soon that the ACMA is going to have to first consider internally and then canvass more widely what it does at the end of the current arrangements. I think there are some questions you can raise that are potentially better considered there than on a day-to-day basis because, as I say, for the ACMA, the big focus of activity has been on ensuring that WIA properly discharges its obligations under its agreement with us.
Senator URQUHART: So you do that through your monitoring, your constant conversations—those sorts of things?
Mr Tanner : We do it by following up on the reports that WIA is required to make and by investigating complaints.
Senator URQUHART: Minister, do you have confidence that the ACMA has delegated its functions in respect to amateur licensing appropriately?
Senator Fifield: I rely on the advice of the ACMA that they are appropriately supervising that activity.
Senator URQUHART: So you are confident in that, obviously.
Senator Fifield: Well, I rely on the advice of the ACMA.
Senator URQUHART: Thanks for that.
You can watch proceedings on-line (11:26:38 - 11:38:23):
The full transcript is here: