CONSUMERS were put front and centre at the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs (CAF) today in Melbourne delivering higher penalties for breaches of consumer law, and action on ticket scalping, retirement villages and paper bills, Small Business Minister Michael McCormack says.
“As Australia’s Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, I was delighted to join Consumer Affairs Ministers from the States, Territories and New Zealand to discuss increased protections for consumers against dodgy products and bad business behaviour,” Mr McCormack said.
“My Ministerial colleagues and I each have responsibility for consumers’ safety and protection, and it is clear from today’s meeting we all want to work together to increase consistency and common sense in our national consumer laws and regulations.”
Mr McCormack said one of the highlights of today’s meeting was delivering on the Australian Government’s Budget 2017-18 commitment to increase consumer penalties under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
“In May this year, the Coalition Government committed to increasing penalties for businesses which breach consumer law through Budget 2017-18,” Mr McCormack said.
“Following endorsement by Consumer Affairs Ministers, these increased penalties will now serve as a severe deterrent for businesses which fail consumers through misleading behaviour or poor business practices.
“These penalties will hold those companies accountable and impose a real financial cost – increasing the penalty to $10 million or three times the value of the benefit the company received or if this cannot be determined then 10 per cent of its annual turnover in the preceding 12 months, whichever is the greater. The fines for individuals are up to $500,000.
“This is yet another example showing the Turnbull Government is firmly backing consumers and all hard-working Australians.”
Ticket scalping, paper billing and retirement villages were also a focus of today’s discussions following Mr McCormack adding these items to the CAF agenda several months ago.
“Australians should be able to access all available tickets and to purchase those tickets at a reasonable price without the gouging mark-ups applied by scalpers and resellers,” Mr McCormack said.
“Following discussions today, the Commonwealth Treasury will undertake a regulatory assessment with options to address the issue of ticket on-selling, including a potential prohibition on on-selling and options to improve transparency in the secondary ticket selling market.
“As an interim measure, an education campaign will also be developed to improve consumer understanding and awareness of the secondary ticket selling market.
“On paper billing, consumers – including the elderly and disadvantaged – who do not have access to technology to receive digital bills should not be penalised and asked to pay exorbitant fees for each bill they receive.
“In today’s meeting, Consumer Affairs Ministers noted that options to amend the Australian Consumer Law to enhance protections for consumers who receive paper bills in the post would be developed by the Commonwealth Treasury.
“In addition to ticket scalping and paper bills, I also asked the CAF meeting to consider retirement villages. Like many Australians, I have family and friends in these villages and I am extremely concerned about reports alleging unfair practices in the retirement village sector.
“Ministers agreed with the need for urgent action, and indeed, some States have already taken action on retirement villages.
“Each State and Territory, working with the Commonwealth, will undertake an urgent assessment of laws and regulations in their jurisdiction to see what actions are required to help protect some of our most vulnerable consumers.”
The outcomes of the ACL Review were also examined in depth by Consumer Affairs Ministers who acknowledged its comprehensive and broad ranging nature, the extensive nationwide consultation and the comprehensive nature of the proposals in the final report.
“While the introduction of the ACL in 2011 has helped empower consumers, lower business costs and reduce the number of disputes, I welcome the opportunities identified in the report to improve and strengthen consumer law,” Mr McCormack said.
“I am pleased to note that the CAF meeting endorsed all the proposals put forward by the ACL Review, including a number of items which will require some in-depth analysis and thorough consultation.
“Changes to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) are governed by an Intergovernmental Agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories which outlines the process of how action can be taken and changes can be made.
“This is a process set up by the former Rudd Government forcing the Commonwealth and States and Territories to work together in order to better protect consumers.
“While this legislated process can take some time, the goodwill from the Commonwealth and each of the States and Territories today means consumers remain the focus of our efforts as we comply with legal requirements to better protect them.
“I would like to thank my State and Territory counterparts for the productive discussions today. I look forward to continuing this important work as we progress towards changes to the Australian Consumer Law.”
The communiqué from Consumer Affairs Ministers from today’s meeting can be found on the Australian Consumer Law website.