Question Time response - scam texts

Mr Tony Zappia MP: My question is to the Minister for Communications. The impact of scam text messages is increasing at an alarming rate. What steps is the Albanese Labor government taking to better protect everyday Australians?

Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland: Mr Speaker, my deepest congratulations on your elevation. I thank the member for Makin for his question. As he - and, I think, every member of this House - knows, too many of our constituents have fallen victim to a scam text message or know someone who has. The perpetrators of scam texts are criminals who operate domestically and overseas. They utilise sophisticated technologies to harm innocent Australians whom they con into divulging sensitive information that can lead to their identity being stolen. They cause financial loss and emotional distress, and they ruin livelihoods.

The ACCC estimates that Australians lost more than $2 billion to scams last year. To give some perspective, according to Scamwatch, financial losses from scam texts have increased by a staggering 188 per cent compared to the same period last year, already costing Australians over $6½ million. This government considers this to be completely unacceptable, and, consistent with our priority to keep all Australians safe, it is pleasing that new rules recently came into force to help combat scam texts. For the first time, telco providers are required to identify, trace and block scam text messages. There are also enhanced obligations for educating consumers about scam texts. And if the telcos fail to comply with the new rules they face hefty penalties of up to a quarter of a million dollars.

Can every scam text be stopped? Unfortunately, the reality is that scams will always exist, and consumers need to remain vigilant. But these measures offer better protection and deterrence than ever before, and there will be industry-wide consistency to implement and maintain first-rate capabilities to reduce scam texts. The evidence from scam call blocking shows that we can make a meaningful reduction in the volume of scam texts as well. In the first 16 months since the industry employed similar rules in relation to scam calls, over half a billion scam calls were blocked from reaching Australian consumers.

I say to the House and to Australians tuning in: if you receive a suspicious text which you think might be a scam, it probably is. Don't click on any link attached to it and don't provide any information in response to it. I encourage you to visit Scamwatch to report scams and to check out its useful tips on detecting and avoiding them. These developments reflect this government's broader suite of initiatives to help keep Australians safe from scams. We've committed to establishing a national anti-scam centre, which my colleague the Assistant Treasurer will be spearheading. This government is committed to disrupting the business models of scammers, and these latest regulatory improvements in relation to scam texts are an important step in that very sensitive mission.