Last month, CFA published its Federal Election Agenda , calling upon the incoming Federal Government to make crucial changes to improve consumer outcomes.
The agenda presented three measures in which governance and institutional arrangements within the economy could become more effective, cohesive and supportive to consumers:
- Appoint a Minister for Consumer Affairs with cabinet status
- Ensure regulators have the resources, power and culture to be effective
- Fund strong and independent consumer voices
As election week nears to a close, CFA is publishing responses received from the major political parties. CFA has received correspondence from the Australian Labor Party, the Coalition Liberal & National Parties, and the Australian Greens and the following is a summary of the responses.
1. Appointing a Minister for Consumer Affairs with Cabinet Status:
The ALP state that its Shadow Ministerial team is firmly committed to protecting consumers across the various portfolios. The ALP state that it will continue to follow the ‘important convention’ of separating portfolio responsibility for Small Business from the Assistant Treasurer, who has traditionally had portfolio responsibility for competition policy.
The Coalition in its response made note of the 2013 appointment of a Cabinet Minister for Small Business who has responsibility of consumer affair matters. Whilst the Minister does have Cabinet status, it does not meet CFA’s call for a Minister whose sole responsibility is Consumer Affairs.
The Greens state that the Assistant Treasurer should have responsibility for consumer affairs, including financial markets and consumer law.
2. Ensure regulators have the resources, power and culture to be effective
All three parties support strong and effective regulators, focused on improving consumer outcomes.
The Greens support establishing an industry funding model for the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC). The Greens also propose reforming the Financial Ombudsman Service to be an independent statutory organisation and a Royal Commission into the finance and insurance sectors to determine the efficacy and funding of regulators and dispute resolution bodies.
The ALP state that strong regulators ensure fair and open markets, and should prevent and expose misconduct. The Coalition noted the recent $121 million funding commitment for ASIC to improve its powers and capabilities.
3. Fund strong and independent consumer voices
The parties did not provide firm and specific commitments to publicly fund the operating costs of representative national peak body.
However, the Greens support this in principle and state that the review of the Australian Consumer Law should be used to inquiry into and recommend on specific models, including funding arrangements and scope.
The ALP also state that it supports publicly funding independent consumer advocates who make a valuable contribution to public debate. It would remove restrictions on advocates that receive government funding from engaging in policy processes and public debate.
The Coalition state that it supports consumers through funding the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) and other regulators. It made note of its $176 million allocation in the 2016-17 budget for the ACCC to inform, advocate and ultimately protect consumer rights. The Coalition noted that the Commonwealth funds individual assistance services to consumers through community legal centres and financial counselling services.
CFA thanks the parties for their responses to the CFA Federal Election Agenda, and urges the elected party to make the necessary changes to ensure that consumer rights remain at the forefront of Australian economic and social concerns.