The Consumers’ Federation of Australia (CFA) has commended the Final Report of the Harper Review into Competition Policy.
CFA Chair, Ms Jo Benvenuti said, “The report reflects the importance that the Panel placed on engaging with and understanding the views of all sectors of the economy, including consumers generally and the interests of low income and vulnerable consumers. The review panel included many of the concerns put to it by consumers.”
CFA also welcomes the significant finding that promotion of the long-term interests of consumers must be at the centre of competition policy.
However, the challenge for government is to continue meaningful dialogue with affected consumers and advocates to implement the reform process.
CFA recognises the benefits of choice in product and service delivery, however Ms Benvenuti stressed that “there is a substantial body of research that shows that when product choice in everyday essentials such as banking, telecommunications, and energy services result in highly complex offers, this can be a major barrier to consumers choosing a product or service suitable for their needs. This calls for appropriate responses.”
“There is an important balance to be struck between encouraging innovation and ensuring consumer protection. In particular, the government must consider how the needs of the whole community are addressed so that the disadvantaged are not left behind in these reforms. This will be critical to any reform processes impacting services for older people or the introduction of competition across a range of human services.”
The CFA cautions against the recommendations on the governance structure of the ACCC, including abolishing the role of a designated Consumer Commissioner.
“We need more regulatory understanding of the issues impacting on consumers, not less. This role has been at the forefront of the early identification of key consumer issues and appropriate regulatory interventions.”
“The measure of success for governments in supporting choice and market reform, therefore, is to ensure that consumer benefit remains the central focus of the reforms. Consumers have more choices and are also better off.”
Jo Benvenuti, Chair
Consumers’ Federation of Australia