Very few people know what the laws in Australia actually are with regards to the buying or selling of radio communications equipment. All radio equipment in Australia is governed by federal legislation, and heavy penalties can be applied, including imprisonment, if these laws are broken, even accidentally.
ALL radio equipment, even those sold as "licence free", are governed by the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) and Radiocommunications Regulation 1993 (the Regulation). These two pieces of legislation, along with the various rules and laws made under them, are enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
Certain radio equipment such as Amateur Radio equipment, transceivers capable of multi-frequency user controlled operation, etc, require that a licence must be held authorising their operation. The only exception to this would be if the equipment had been permanently modified so that it either:
- operated only within CB or 27MHz marine frequencies; or
- was capable of receive only.
Despite many popular beliefs it is actually illegal to possess unlicensed radio equipment, and not just to use the equipment. Section 46 of the Act specifies that it is unlawful to operate an unlicensed radio device, howeversection 47 specifies that it is also unlawful to possess an unlicensed radio device with the intention of operation, while section 48 specifies that it is assumed there is an intention to operate the device if all that is required is the connection of a microphone, antenna, power supply and/or manipulation of user controls. This very simply means that even if the radio is disconnected and turned off, if all you need to do to make it fully operational is connect the radio and turn it on, then you are in breach of the Act and can be charged with an offence (maximum penalty for an individual is 1500 penalty units or 2 year imprisonment).
Licence Free Handhelds
There are an ever increasing number of 80 channel UHF "licence free" hand held radio units being sold. What is often not told to the buyer is that these radios operate on the UHF CB band in Australia, and are subject to the same rules and laws that all other radio equipment is subject to, including the legally allocated channels on the CB bands. (see CB Radio below)
These radio's include those sold as 80 (or 40, 38 or 78) Channel Personal UHF, UHF Two-Way, UHF Handheld, UHF Pocket Radio, etc!!!
Of extreme importance on this band are the emergency channels, channels 5 AND 35, which are legally reserved for emergency use only. Even these low powered hand held radio units are capable of blocking a call for help given the right circumstances, and lives could be lost.
Parents should also be aware that anyone that owns a UHF CB will be able to listen to and communicate with children that are using these sets as "toys", so common sense should be exercised! For a list of all relevant CB channels, keep reading.
Low Interference Devices
Certain radio equipment operating at extremely low power levels (around 10mW) are exempt from needing a licence despite the fact that they may operate on parts of the Amateur Radio band, or on other shared frequencies. These devices, due to their extremely low power levels, are considered to be low interference potential and are not intended for long distance or great range. Bear in mind that by their very nature the communications distance is extremely limited.
Although no individual licence is required for CB in Australia, the use of CB is governed by a "Class Licence" and by the Act and Regulations. All of these provide for heavy penalties for the misuse of the band, including the confiscation of radio equipment where illegal equipment is used. There are TWO (2) CB Bands in Australia (and New Zealand), the HF or 27MHz band, and the UHF band. Only radio equipment that has been type approved for use on CB may legally be used on these bands.
Commercial radio equipment can be used on the UHF CB band if it has been type approved for use on the Australian CB bands, AND has been pre-programmed to comply with the CB Class Licence, such as power output and frequencies. UHF CB equipment is limited to 5W output maximum, and although commercial sets are usually capable of 25W or more, they must be set for 5W if used on the CB band. Commercial equipment operating at higher power, or that is capable of being user programmed from the front panel, is not type approved for CB use and is therefore illegal to even possess without a relevant licence.
It should be noted that the ACMA have now changed their policy on commerical (Land Mobile Radio or "LMR") equipment used on CB bands. Previously any LMR type approved for the Land Mobile System could also be used on the CB band as long as the channels were programmed correctly, however now the radio must be type approved for use on the CB band as well as the Land Mobile System before it can be used as a CB. Not all LMR equipment is type approved for CB - check with the manufacturer first as use of a non-type approved LMR would cause you to be liable to prosecution and/or a fine.
Likewise Amateur Radio equipment capable of also operating on the UHF or 27MHz CB bands is also illegal to own without an Amateur (or Scientific) licence, unless it is commercially made, has been type approved for CB, and has been permanently modified to only operate on the CB channels and within the allowed power range. Amateur operators can use this equipment on CB bands ONLY if it is type approved for CB and as long as it is operated within the power limits for the relevant band. If the equipment is still capable of operating on the Amateur bands then it is illegal to possess that radio unless you have the relevant licence, even if you are only using it on the CB bands (the laws regulate against possession and not use). If the radio is not type approved for CB then it is illegal for ANY person, Amateur licensed or not, to use it on the CB bands.
On the CB bands certain channels have been legally reserved for specific uses. These channels are:
On the UHF Band
Channels 5 AND 35 - Emergency use only
Channel 11 - Calling
Channels 22 and 23 - Data only (no voice)
Channel 40 - Road channel (recommended not allocated)
On the HF Band
Channel 9 - Emergency use only
Channel 11 - Calling (AM mode)
Channel 16 - Calling (LSB mode)
Channel 8 - Road channel (recommended not allocated)
Channel 35 is generally accepted as a long distance call channel, but is not legally allocated
Legal PenaltiesAs January 2007, the ACMA (the federal agency that enforces the laws regarding radiocommunications in Australia) advised that the following penalties could apply for the misuse of CB channels.
For general misuse of legally allocated channels, or other matters that breach the terms of the Class Licence, the operator can be prosecuted for "operating without a licence". This is because under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 if the provisions of a Class Licence are breached then operation under that Class Licence is no longer authorised. ACMA advise that such offence carries the following penalties:
- for minor offences by individuals, an on-the-spot fine of $220; or
- for more serious offences by individuals, up to 2 years imprisonment; or
- in all other cases, up to $165,000.
For actual interference to an emergency call in progress (deliberate or accidental):
- if an individual, up to 5 years imprisonment; or
- otherwise $550,000.
The above was advised by the NSW Regional Office of the ACMA in January 2007.
Receive Only & ScannersA transceiver that would normally require a licence to possess and operate may be used for receiving only (without a licence) IF, and only if, it has been modified in a way that makes it impossible to transmit by simply plugging in a microphone or making some simple adjustment. In other words, if you have a technician disable the transmitter internally so it can not be easily enabled then you may use it as a receiver to listen to any service.
Scanners and scanning receivers are perfectly legal to own and use. There are NO laws that prohibit listening to any service or authority, except for:
- telephones; you can not monitor any telephone service (including mobile phone, Radphone, Seaphone, etc)
- Encrypted transmissions
CTCSS, Subtones, or "38 Sub Channels"
Some radio's are sold with a feature called CTCSS or Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System, and these are often wrongly advertised as giving "38 sub channels" or "38 private channels". This is misleading! CTCSS works by only allowing you to hear other users whose radio is transmitting one of 38 specific sub-audible tones. Until the correct tone is received the speaker on your radio remains silent so you don't hear other users, and this gives the mis-conception that you are in fact on a private sub-channel.
In actual fact, with CTCSS although you can not hear the other users, anyone listening to the channel with a normal UHF CB will be able to hear everything you say, so the system does not offer any form of real privacy. Also, if you accidentally stumble onto a channel in use, or with some radio's even the emergency channel (it is actually illegal to use CTCSS on UHF channels 5 or 35) then you could be totally oblivious to the fact that you are interfering with other users or even blocking a call for help. If you use CTCSS you should pay attention to the "channel busy" indicator that shows you if someone is using the channel even if you can't hear them, and never transmit if you believe that someone else is already using the channel. You should especially avoid having CTCSS active on UHF channels 5 or 35!!
Selling Unlicensed Equipment
Whilst there is little to stop a private seller from selling radio equipment to an unlicensed person, for a business the story is slightly different. Section 301 of the Radiocommunications Act provides that it is unlawful for a person that carries on the business of supplying radiocommunications devices to supply certain devices to someone that doesn't supply a copy of a valid licence. In addition, the supplier must record the particulars of the licence to be kept in a record for future reference.
Type Approval or Certificate of Conformity is granted to a product that meets a minimum set of regulatory, technical and safety requirements. Generally, type approval is required before a product is allowed to be sold in a particular country, so the requirements for a given product will vary around the world
The use of non-standard radiocommunications equipment including, but not limited to, cordless phones, land mobile transceivers, CB radios and a range of low power appliances, may cause costly interference. Some of the services which may be affected by interference are cellular (mobile) phone services, broadcast radio and television, and two-way radio services, including emergency services.
The use and (sometimes) possession of radiocommunications equipment not specifically designed to comply with Australian standards may be illegal. There are severe penalties for operation, possession for the purpose of operation and supply of radiocommunications equipment that does not comply with applicable Australian standards.
I hope this guide has been useful in some way. It has been compiled as a basic general guide to the selling and buying of radio equipment, based on the current laws relating to radio equipment. More detailed information or advice can be obtained by contacting the Australian Communications and Media Authority, listed in the Commonwealth Government section of your telephone directory.