CFA’s Consumer Experts Roundtable, held last week in Canberra, was a great success and demonstrated the significant role that the organisation plays in setting a national agenda for the Australian consumer movement.
More than 80 attendees, from the consumer movement, government, regulators including ACCC and ASIC, and academia came together in Canberra for interactive panels focusing on the upcoming review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
The ACL is the cornerstone of a national consumer rights framework and ensures that all Australians are able to purchase goods and services that are fit for purpose. It also guards against misleading advertising, unfair contracts and scams.
Since its introduction in 2010, the ACL has led to the prosecution of many high profile cases, including multi-million dollar penalties for Optus and TPG for broadband advertising deemed misleading and against national retailer Harvey-Norman for misrepresenting consumer refund rights. The ACL has also enabled consumer advocates to campaign successfully against unconscionable and misleading practices such as energy retailers ignoring Do Not Knock stickers and hamper company Chrisco continuing to take direct debit payments after hamper orders had been paid off.
The Consumers’ Federation of Australia has made it a priority to help its members influence the ACL review and put consumer interests at the heart of the process. Monday’s event was a first step towards this and the event’s inclusive format meant that members were able to interact directly with those responsible for the review.
New CFA Chair and Consumer Action CEO Gerard Brody said, “The review of the ACL offers consumer advocates the opportunity to strengthen consumer protection. Australia’s economy continues to change, and we need to ensure consumers benefit in new markets, including in online and technology-driven services, disruptive ‘sharing economy’ services, and in public services that are opened up to competition by governments”.
Officials from Treasury shared information about the process for the review with attendees, including that an issues paper will be published in the first quarter of 2016. Two relevant Productivity Commission inquiries were flagged as well: one on access to consumer data, and another on choice and competition in human services. These are due to take place during 2016.
“We look forward to continuing this work with our members to help coordinate a focused response to the review, one which ensures that consumer interests are at the heart of any new or amended legislation”.