In Australia there are two CB (Citizen Band) services set aside for the use of the general public. Both of these services require no individual licences or qualifications, however they are governed by Commonwealth law and a class licence. It should be noted that these sets, especially UHF units, are often sold as “licence-free” and may not be advertised as “CB,” however in Australia there are only two bands (other than marine) openly available for the general public to use without the need for high cost licences or technical qualifications.
The Class Licence
Originally when legalised in 1977 these bands required the user to pay for an annual licence from the Australian Government (initially the Post Master General or PMG.) In 1994 the need to pay for an individual licence was replaced by a class licence, which automatically covered every user. Many people thought the bands had been “de-regulated” and therefore the often strict rules that applied to CB before the class licence had been removed. In fact not much had changed other than the need to pay for an individual apparatus licence.
The class licence, itself an instrument of federal law under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth), still set out the frequencies to be used, the power available, what channels were designated for specific purposes (e.g. the emergency channels), and other operating conditions previously enforced under the CBRS apparatus licence. However, what changed was the fact that now, under the class licence, any use contrary to the conditions of that licence was deemed to be unlicensed and therefore punishable under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 as either unlicensed operation or, if the set was modified, unlicensed possession.
Since the class licence many people feel the government has little, or no, interest in enforcing the laws. While it is true that, largely due to government cut backs in staff and funding the ACMA are not as active on CB as they once were, enforcement is far from dead. CB is classed as “self-regulating” which means the CB users are supposed to deal with most issues through education, and then if problems persist inform ACMA of certain information so they can assess the need for intervention.
RREC are active in trying to educate business and corporate users about any misuse, especially the emergency channels, in an effort to avoid the need for ACMA intervention where possible. However, we also work closely with ACMA Inspectors when needed to locate users that may need contact from ACMA.
ACMA Inspectors, endorsed as federal officers, AFP officers, and state/territory police have powers to search (with and in some cases without a warrant), force entry, and seize items under Part 5.5 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth). ACMA have advanced tracking and monitoring equipment and, in the past, have tracked stations misusing the CB emergency channels and issued fines, seized equipment and even charged people with criminal offences.
Open to anyone
CB radio is unique in that it is available to anyone to use, without the need for an expensive licence or operator qualifications like amateur radio. In one way this is a negative as it makes the bands available to the “riff raff” that are only interested in making life hard for others, however it also has a positive side.
When disasters strike and telephone services fail the general public has very little choice if they need to call for help. Satellite phones are expensive and are still subject to interference from dense cloud or smoke, and the amateur radio bands often used during disasters by members of WICEN (Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network) need operator qualifications and licences, not to mention often expensive equipment. CB on the other hand is cheap (some hand held sets less than $50), free to use, and available to anyone. Almost every truck on the road, plus 4WD, cars, farms, etc. have CB in one form or the other, making it an affordable alternative for local communication during emergencies.
All we ask is that before you let your children loose on the bands, or yourself loose during that trip or excursion, you familiarise yourself with the channel designations and other rules that govern CB in Australia. Some of this information can be found in the user guide of your radio.
Downloads & Links
Below is a channel band plan for the Australian 80 channel UHF CB. The first 40 channels also apply to the older 40 channel UHF sets. The designations shown reflect both the legally designated channels and the commonly used channels, with colour coding to distinguish the two.