Monday, 22 May 2017 18:38

Review recommends redefining ACMA role, sector-wide reforms still to come Featured

Review recommends redefining ACMA role, sector-wide reforms still to come Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

The federal government’s two-year review of the Australian Communications and Media Authority has made 27 recommendations for reform of ACMA, including a more defined role of its regulatory remit at a time of “radical change” in the communications sector over 10 years.

But despite the review — undertaken by the Department of Communications starting in 2015 under then Minister for communications Malcolm Turnbull — finding an urgent need for reform of the ACMA, it has effectively put off until a later date a programme of reform of the wider communications industry sector.

The review has, instead, recommended that the Government “commence” — but with no date set — a regulatory reform programme to establish a “contemporary communications regulatory framework”.

While finding that the ACMA has “generally performed its regulatory role efficiently and well over the last ten years”, the DoC review says ACMA’s remit, responsibilities and functions lack clarity and cohesion and its regulatory and performance objectives are unclear.

“There is a lack of clarity as to decisions which are best made by the regulator and those which are policy decisions for the government, particularly in areas that are increasingly contested such as spectrum allocation,” the report says.

“These have made the ACMA’s job increasingly difficult in making regulatory judgments and the allocation of its resources, resulting in some frustration for the regulator and the industry.”

The review makes key recommendations for reform of the ACMA, in the first instance, including:

  • Clarifying the remit of the regulator to set the boundaries of its regulatory responsibility and oversight;
  • A number of changes to the functions of the regulator;
  • Clearer formal advice from the Government to the ACMA on its expectations, within the boundaries of its statutory independence, and reporting by the ACMA on its delivery against these;
  • New governance arrangements involving a “commission” model of full-time, specialist members supported by associate members and sub-boards; and
  • Embedding in its establishing legislation a series of regulator principles to guide performance.

According to the review, these changes will also result in greater alignment with arrangements for, and processes of other domestic regulators, such as the ACCC, while also reflecting best practice examples from international regulators.

In its reaction to the review, the Communications Alliance has called on the government to move quickly to implement the recommendations of its review of the ACMA to give certainty and direction to the regulator.

CA chief executive John Stanton said moves to strengthen the Authority through more full-time members, provide for the Deputy-Chair to take on more of a CEO-like role, set clearer objectives for the regulator and press for greater self-regulation, are all positive steps.

But Stanton was critical of the time taken to get to this stage.

“Government should move expeditiously to put new arrangements in place, given the long period of organisational 'limbo' within which the ACMA has had to operate.

"It is almost two years since the review was announced and almost exactly one year since the recommendations were published.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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