In Australia, there are detailed and complex regulatory arrangements in place to ensure that devices supplied in Australia do not cause interference to communication systems and electrical circuits, and are safe for use. One example of a device that exists which may interfere with communication systems and is powered by electricity or emits power is a laptop.

While the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) oversees the national regulatory regime in respect of interference by devices (ACMA Regime), electrical safety is transitioning from a State/Territory regulatory arrangement to a harmonised model at the Federal level.

The ACMA Regime and the national electrical safety regime apply to devices capable of causing interference and/or electronic equipment designed for household or personal use. For example, consideration needs to be given to the application of Australian laws to products, such as tablets, hair dryers, batteries and mobile phones.

The ACMA Regime and the national electrical safety regime intertwine in two significant ways, namely, both regimes:

  1. Use the same national database (National Database)1 to register suppliers who wish to supply devices governed by one or both of these regimes (Relevant Devices); and
  2. Require the RCM mark to be labelled on Relevant Devices that comply with the applicable standard(s).

Further, each of the ACMA Regime and the national electrical safety regime applies to any Australian party that supplies Relevant Devices into the Australian market. A supplier can be:

  1. An importer in Australia;
  2. A manufacturer in Australia; or
  3. An agent of a manufacturer or importer who is acting on their behalf.

This article provides an overview of the requirements under the ACMA Regime and the national electrical safety regime. Although both regimes are self-regulatory in nature, the relevant regulatory authority may conduct an audit at any time upon written notice. Accordingly, suppliers of Relevant Devices should ensure that they understand and comply with the requirements under each of these regimes as failure to do so could result in significant penalties.

ACMA Regime

The ACMA Regime regulates interference caused by the following categories of devices:

  1. Telecommunications (for example, analogue telephones, DSL modems, smartphones and tablets);
  2. Radiocommunications (for example, devices with WiFi or Bluetooth functionality);
  3. Electromagnetic compatibility (in general, all electrical devices that are not powered by batteries); and
  4. Electrical magnetic energy (for example, mobile phones, baby monitors and cordless phones).

Previously, each of the above categories was regulated separately and required the use of different marks to show compliance with the applicable standard(s). However, from 1 March 2013, the ACMA introduced a new ACMA Regime by consolidating its three compliance marks (i.e. C-tick, A-tick and RCM) into a single compliance mark (i.e. RCM mark) and requiring suppliers to register on the National Database.

While the new ACMA Regime came into effect on 1 March 2013, it provided for a three-year transition period to allow suppliers who had been registered with ACMA before 1 March 2013 (Previous Suppliers) to register under the new regime. The transition period expires on 29 February 2016. This means that, from 1 March 2016, all Previous Suppliers must have transitioned to the new ACMA Regime.

Similar registration and labelling requirements (described below) apply to all categories of devices regulated under the ACMA Regime, regardless of their level of risk. However, the testing and record-keeping requirements vary, depending on the category of device and the level of risk associated with the device.

National Electrical Safety Regime

Save for New South Wales, the national electrical safety regime is being rolled out progressively across all jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand. New South Wales is not part of the national electrical safety regime. This means that, if the Relevant Devices are only supplied in New South Wales, then only the electrical safety requirements in New South Wales will need to be observed. Currently, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia have introduced legislation to give effect to the national electrical safety regime. It is expected that other jurisdictions will follow in due course.

Suppliers wishing to supply their equipment nationally will need to comply with the national electrical safety regime. However, if the supply is limited to a jurisdiction where the national electrical safety regime has not yet been implemented, then it is sufficient to comply with the relevant State/Territory laws.

The national electrical safety regime governs all "in scope" equipment. "In scope" means all electrical and electronic equipment that is designed, or marketed as suitable for household, personal or similar use whose voltage is greater than 50V AC RMC or 120V ripple-free DC, and less than 1000V AC RMS or 1500V ripple-free DC.

There are three categories of electrical equipment identified under the national electrical safety regime. They are:

  • Level-one (low risk) equipment means all "in scope" equipment which are not level-two (medium risk) or level-three (high risk) equipment;
  • Level-two (medium risk) equipment - no specific items have been listed in this category, but it is anticipated that they will be listed in the Australian Standard, AS/NZS 4417.2 in the future; and
  • Level-three (high risk) equipment are those items listed in AS/NZS 4417.2.

Depending on the category in which the relevant device is classified, different requirements apply in relation to testing, record-keeping and registration. However, the same basic registration and labelling requirements (described below) will apply across all devices, regardless of their risk level.

Registration on the National Database

The same National Database is used to record registration of suppliers in respect of both the national electrical safety regime and the ACMA compliance labelling regime. . Before labelling the RCM mark on Relevant Devices or supplying those devices in Australia, the supplier must be registered on the National Database. The registration must be renewed annually to ensure that the supplier details are current.

The following information for the supplier must be recorded on the National Database:

  1. Its ABN and company name;
  2. Its address in Australia; and
  3. The name and contact details in Australia of an authorised officer.

Other information may be required to be recorded. No fee is payable by a supplier when registering its details on the National Database in respect of the ACMA registration. However, an annual fee is payable in respect of registration under the national electrical safety regime. The fee depends on the category (or risk level) of the device.

Labelling the RCM Mark

The supplier will need to comply with the following labelling requirements:

  1. The RCM mark must be placed on the device in a place that is accessible (i.e., can be read) by the user. A label is not accessible if it is necessary to use a specialised tool to read it;
  2. The RCM mark placed on the device must be durable and applied permanently or in a way that makes removal difficult; and
  3. The RCM mark must be at least 3mm high.

Suppliers falling under the electrical safety regime will also need to comply with the labelling requirements set out in the Australian Standard, AS/NZS 4417.1.

Next Steps

All suppliers of Relevant Devices should register on the National Database as soon as practicable as they will not be able to label Relevant Devices with the RCM mark or supply them into Australia until registration is confirmed.

The requirements and obligations under the ACMA Regime and national electrical safety regime are complex and multi-layered. We have extensive expertise in this area and will be happy to assist your queries.