Comms research centre faces closure despite support

Australia's communications regulator has written to the vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Mark Wainwright, asking him to review a decision likely to force the closure of the institution's Communications Law Centre (CLC).

Australia's communications regulator has written to the vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Mark Wainwright, asking him to review a decision likely to force the closure of the institution's Communications Law Centre (CLC).

Australian Communications Authority (ACA) acting chairman Dr Bob Horton told ZDNet Australia   he had sent a letter to the University to "underpin" the ACA's support for the 17 year-old centre and its contribution to telecommunications and broadcasting regulation.

However, CLC director Dr Derek Wilding today conceded the letter from Dr Horton -- and others from powerful industry players like Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Louise Sylvan -- were unlikely to have saved the centre from closure for at least the second half of this calendar year.

The University gave the CLC notice on 27 May that it would not be renewing funding for the new financial year which, he said, had not given the research centre much time to find a new home. Dr Wilding indicated in an interview with ABC Radio two weeks ago the decision was based largely on the centre's failure to become entirely self-funding.

"I think the UNSW situation has got to the point [where we will meet to] talk about options -- however, it doesn't appear [it] involves any plan for the second half of this year," Dr Wilding said today.

The five-person centre specialises in research into legal and regulatory issues affecting telecommunications and broadcasting. While the centre is best known for its work on media ownership and cash for comment, it has also undertaken extensive research into consumer protection in telecommunications contracts. A second three-person CLC operates at Victoria University in Melbourne and has just been granted full Research Unit status.

Dr Wilding noted the irony in the closure of the NSW arm just as the federal government prepares to merge the ACA and the Australian Broadcasting Authority to form the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The University took over management of the centre from its parent company, CLC Ltd, in October 2003. The firm will resume management of the centre when UNSW funding expires on 30 June. It will cover payroll for a two-week period to allow the centre to wind up operations, Dr Wilding said.

Read our exclusive interview with Dr Bob Horton where he explains why consumer rights continue to lag. He also touches on other topics including regulating mobile adult content.