CB Licensing

The following was prepared using publicly available information from the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). It is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.

CB needs no licence!!!” Really? Is this true? No licence at all??

When CB was first legalised in Australia in 1977 every station had to have a licence. In fact, at first you needed a licence for EVERY CB you owned, at a cost of $25 per CB per year (payable to the Post Master General or “PMG”)! Eventually this changed (as did the agency you paid) – $25 for up to 5 radios, then the cost went down, then one fee for as many radios as you owned. Then in 1994 the government abandoned individual licences for CB stations opting instead for a class licence system. What is a class licence? Well, from the ACMA website:

“A class licence sets out the conditions under which any person is permitted to operate. It is not issued to an individual user, and does not involve licence fees or licence conditions applied to individuals.”.

What this basically means is that everyone is automatically covered by the class licence and no longer needs to obtain an individual licence for their CB sets.

When the CBRS Class Licence came in many CBers automatically thought that CB had been “deregulated”, meaning that there were no longer any laws or rules governing how CB could and couldn’t be used. In fact, CB was/is often sold as “licence-free” and even promoted by sales people as having no licence and no rules, but this wasn’t exactly true; the laws remained very largely unchanged – emergency and call channels were still allocated, maximum power was still mandated, frequencies that could be used were still set – except now, instead of all this being a condition of the individual licence that each CBer had to get, it was part of the class licence that automatically applied to everyone the moment they started using their CB.

What this meant is very simple – all of the conditions that existed before 1994 regarding channel uses, power output, interference, etc., remained in force and enforceable under the Radiocommunications (Citizen Band Radio Stations) Class Licence and the Radiocommunications Act 1992, except for one important point that many people do not realise.

Under the old system if you breached the rules – operated high power or chatted on the emergency channels, for example – you could be prosecuted for breaching the relevant section(s) of the licence, but under the class licence you could be prosecuted for operating WITHOUT A LICENCE! How? Very simply the Radiocommunications Act stipulates that where operation is under a class licence, if you operate outside of the provisions of that class licence, then you are no longer authorised to operate under the licence and hence, are operating without a licence.

(3) Operation of a radiocommunications device is not authorised by a class licence if it is not in accordance with the conditions of the licence.
Radiocommunications Act 1992, subsection 132.

This offence carries a maximum penalty for an individual of 2 years imprisonment.

46 Unlicensed operation of radiocommunications devices

(1) Subject to section 49, a person must not operate a radiocommunications device otherwise than as authorised by:

  1. a spectrum licence; or
  2. an apparatus licence; or
  3. a class licence.

Penalty:

  1. if the radiocommunications device is a radiocommunications transmitter:
    1. if the offender is an individual-imprisonment for 2 years; or
    2. otherwise-1,500 penalty units; or
  2. if the radiocommunications device is not a radiocommunications transmitter-20 penalty units.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if the person has a reasonable excuse.
Note: A defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matter in subsection (2) (see subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code).

This is not just “our opinion”. The following comes from the ACMA website “Citizens band radio stations class licence” which can be found at http://www.acma.gov.au/Industry/Spectrum/Radiocomms-licensing/Class-licences/citizen-band-radio-stations-class-licence:

If you breach any condition of the class licence (for example, operating on a frequency not mentioned in the class licence, or using an emergency channel for non-emergency purposes) you are no longer authorised under the class licence and may be liable for prosecution. [emphasis added]

See: Citizen band radio stations class licence – Breaches of licence conditions

Heavy Penalties

In January 2018 ACREM obtained updated information on the penalties. The response from the ACMA advises that the following penalties can apply:

  • For any use contrary to the conditions of the Class Licence, the operator can be prosecuted for operating without a licence, as indicated above. Maximum penalty is:
    1. if the offender is an individual: 2 years imprisonment, or
    2. otherwise (business, companies, etc.): $315,000.

     

  • Alternatively under s315 of the Act the ACMA can issue an infringement notice for a minor breach of s46 or s47 for an amount of:
    1. For an individual: $420
    2. For a body-corporate: $2,100

     

  • For interference to an emergency call in progress then section 193 and/or 194 of the Radiocommunications Act provides for a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment or $1,050,000. This offence can only be dealt with via court.

NOTE: The “penalty units” mentioned in the Act are converted to dollar amounts based on the (Commonwealth) Crimes Act 1914, subsection 4AA. As of 1 July 2017 this was set at $210 per penalty unit, and will automatically increase in accordance with the CPI on 1 July 2020 and every 3 years thereafter.

But I’m not operating it!

For those thinking all they need to do is disconnect their CB with extra channels and higher power and stick it under the bed, as then they aren’t “operating” it, you can also be charged with unlawful possession of a radio (a CB that breaches the class licence is unlawful to possess, not just operate):

47 Unlawful possession of radiocommunications devices

(1) Subject to section 49, a person must not have a radiocommunications device in his or her possession for the purpose of operating the device otherwise than as authorised by:

  1. a spectrum licence; or
  2. an apparatus licence; or
  3. a class licence.

Penalty:

  1. if the radiocommunications device is a radiocommunications transmitter:
    1. if the offender is an individual-imprisonment for 2 years; or
    2. otherwise-1,500 penalty units; or
  2. if the radiocommunications device is not a radiocommunications transmitter-20 penalty units.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if the person has a reasonable excuse.
Note: A defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matter in subsection (2) (see subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code).

Type-Approved Equipment

Another area that catches many people out is “type-approved” equipment and the use of illegal gear on CB. Unlike Amateur Radio, CB is a non-technical band and as such ALL equipment used on either of the CB bands must have been tested and approved under the relevant Australian Standard. For CB there are two Standards applicable:

  • For 27MHz CB: AS/NZS 4355 (Radiocommunications equipment used in the handphone and citizen band radio services operating at frequencies not exceeding 30 MHz); and
  • For UHF CB: AS/NZS 4365 (Radiocommunications equipment used in the UHF citizen radio service).

Only radio equipment tested and approved under these Standards can be used on CB! This means Amateur Radio equipment can NOT be used (with the exception of a select few 70cm transceivers that also include UHF CB as an approved sub-band), and not all commercial Land Mobile radios can be used on UHF CB (not every manufacturer has dual type-approved every one of their Land Mobile transceivers for the Land Mobile and UHF CB bands.)

Cheap Chinese/overseas UHF sets (Baofeng, Wouxon, etc.), even if you do have an Amateur licence, can NOT be used on CB bands, EVER!

The penalties for even possessing these radios is as shown above for breaches of s46 or s47 of the Act, plus you usually lose all the radio equipment as well. That can get rather expensive if you’ve just purchases a few thousand dollars worth of Amateur Radio equipment for use on 27MHz CB, only to cop a fine and have all the equipment confiscated as well!

Tones and Scramblers

The CB class licence provides for the use of:

  • CTCSS or “sub-audible” tones (sometimes called “privacy tones”)
  • Selective Calling (audible) tones
  • Voice scramblers

However, there are some restrictions!

  1. Sub-audible CTCSS tones can only be used on UHF, but NOT on the emergency channels (5 and 35).
  2. Selective Calling can be used on 27MHz and UHF, but NOT on the UHF emergency channels (5 and 35). They must also only be transmitted for less than 3 seconds in every period of 60 seconds.
  3. Voice Scramblers can be used on CB except on:
    1. Any of the emergency channels (HF 9, UHF 5 and 35); and
    2. Any of the call channels (HF 11 and 16, UHF 11); and
    3. Any UHF repeater.

Federal not State

All of these laws that govern CB in Australia are Commonwealth laws, that is they apply across the whole of Australia and its territories. They can not only be enforced by the ACMA Field Inspectors (or “Radio Inspector” if you prefer), but also Australian Federal Police, and the Police of a State or Territory.

Under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 ACMA Inspectors have the power to obtain a search warrant and then use whatever reasonable force as is necessary to execute the warrant, with or without Police assistance (s269, s270 and s272). An Inspector may also conduct an “emergency search” without a warrant in specific circumstances (s275). Despite some misconceptions an authorised ACMA Inspector does NOT need to have Police present in order to execute a search warrant as they are already duly delegated and authorised “federal officers” under the Act; Police are sometimes taken for safety reasons (e.g. if they feel the person may need to be detained for their safety, violence has been threatened, etc.), however it is not essential before they can demand entry under a search warrant or the Act.

More Information

More information on this subject can be obtained from the federal agency that enforces the Class Licence and the Radiocommunications Act – the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). Although many people think that the ACMA don’t care, ACREM has been involved in a number of instances where, following information provided by ACREM members, operators causing interference to the emergency channels have been located by ACMA field staff using Radio Direction Finding equipment and issued infringement notices or charged to appear before a court. Even mobile stations or those using low powered hand held equipment can be tracked and located.

You can also view the relevant federal legislation at the following links:

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