Mailing Lists


It’s happened to me a few times now – I’ve had newsletters from various places turn up in my inbox and I think to myself “I don’t remember signing up for that”. Most of the time I put it down to my poor memory for these things and if I decide I don’t want to read the newsletter I unsubscribe.

But a newsletter came to me recently that I know I didn’t subscribe to. It was from a business owner I had fleeting contact with via an event I was on the organising committee for. I had not been asked during our contact whether I wanted to be signed up – the business owner just signed me up to their mailing list.

It’s worth pointing out if you have a mailing list – and these days most businesses do! – it is against Australia’s privacy and anti-spam legislation to sign someone up for your newsletter without their consent.

The government put out a Practical Guide to the Spam Act for business which you can download here.

Businesses in breach of the Spam Act can face court-imposed penalties of up to $220,000 for a single day’s contraventions. After that the fine can go up to  $1.1 million.

There are three steps businesses should follow in order to comply with the Spam Act:

1.  Consent

Only send commercial messages when you have consent – either express consent or inferred consent (based on your relationship with the person).

2.  Identify

Your commercial message should clearly identify who is responsible for sending the message and how they can be contacted.

3.  Unsubscribe

All commercial electronic messages must contain a functional unsubscribe facility allowing people to opt out from receiving future messages. And the request MUST be honoured.

These rules even apply to OLD contact lists. You must be sure you have either express or inferred consent from everyone on your contact list that you can send them commercial messages.

The legislation also bans the use of address-harvesting software and harvested  address lists – however lists generated manually (eg by viewing websites) are not prohibited. If you purchase a distribution list you must be sure that consent has been obtained from each address on the list before commercial messages are sent.

In addition to the Spam Act you should also ensure you comply with the provisions of the National Privacy Principles. You’ll find more information about NPP at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

©Lyn Prowse-Bishop –


  1. Jane says:

    Over the 2.5 years that I’ve been in Australia, this has happened to me at every networking meeting I’ve attended. I’ve even had newsletters from people who didn’t physically meet me, they just picked up my details from a table at the side of the room – generally their messages tend to not mention where they ‘met’ me and I have no idea who or what they are. Needless to say these people get short shrift from me! However, I do find it incredible that people would think it OK to add me to a mailing list without asking me first. Just because I exchange business cards with someone does not mean that I agree to be added to their mailing list – it means that I would be happy to do business with them should something of mutual interest/benefit turn up. I have a box full of business cards that I’ve been given at meetings, but my mailing list consist only of people who have expressly signed up for it. Thanks for your post Lyn.

  2. Cathy white says:

    Hi Lyn

    Great article – thanks for sharing this information so concisely!

    Cathy White
    i-Assist Corporate Solutions

  3. execva says:

    I guess now Jane you can let them know what the law is under the Spam Act pertaining to this sort of behaviour. However, I should point out that there is an implied permission granted in the exchange of business cards containing your email address that you will accept email from them. If you don’t want to be added to mailing lists then you need to either remove your email address from your card or ensure you tell them you don’t want to be added to any mailing lists when you hand your card over. Otherwise – and in any event – the sender of the email must ensure that even if they do send you an email contact after the exchange of cards they must seek permission from you in that first contact to add you to their mailing list, and include an unsubscribe feature in any subsequent mailings they do make.

  4. Jane says:

    I don’t mind receiving e-mails from them – it’s the being added to mailing lists that really upsets me! I must confess that since I’ve moved from being a VA into the wedding stationery business this kind of thing hasn’t happened so much. Although one of my brides added me to her business mailing list which I found a bit of a stretch … !
    Thanks for the clarification though, I love all that you do for the VA industry and also for small business in general.

  5. Kylee says:

    Brilliant Article and thank you for this information.

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