Make Unfair Illegal – Consumer Groups Call for Strong New Laws to Close Gaps as New Research on Consumer Knowledge Emerges

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Original article and research by CHOICE and CPRC (29/11/2023).

In a country that believes in a fair go, it makes sense most people believe businesses should treat us fairly.

A new CHOICE national survey, in fact, reveals that more than seven out of 10 Australians think it’s a legal requirement that businesses are fair.

Yet nearly all of us are routinely seeing business practices we consider unfair – such as making it infuriatingly difficult to cancel an online subscription, being charged a higher price based on our personal data profile, or paying extra for an extended warranty that provides no extra benefits.

Most Australians think these common business practices are unfair

Our survey found that:

  • 90% of Australians think subscription traps are unfair
  • 89% think using our data against us is unfair
  • 84% think worthless extended warranties are unfair. 

The overwhelming consensus is that we’re annoyed and aggrieved, yet the disappointing fact is that there is no law in Australia against this type of unfair business behaviour – which goes to the heart of why businesses keep engaging in it.

Read more: Unfair business practices are illegal elsewhere – why not in Australia? 

CHOICE is calling on government to make unfair practices illegal 

Consumer advocacy groups including CHOICE and the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) believe there should be such a law, and we’re making the case for one in our submission to the federal government’s consultation on unfair business practices.

We say it’s time for Australia to catch up with other countries including the UK, US and the EU and put the brakes on unfair trading in all its forms – from aggressive sales tactics targeting vulnerable people, all the way down to businesses using chatbots as the only way to contact them.

Making unfair business practices illegal is a necessary step to update Australia’s consumer law, to protect consumers from harm and promote healthy competition.

“There are a number of gaps in the consumer law when it comes to protecting people from unfair business practices. These gaps leave consumers in Australia vulnerable to all kinds of unfair treatment,” says CHOICE senior policy and campaigns adviser Alex Söderlund.

CPRC CEO Erin Turner says Australian consumers deserve better. 

“Australians are missing out on protections that consumers in other countries have benefited from for decades. We need laws to effectively call out and restrict unfair practices. These laws will mean businesses have to treat you with respect and care.”

What we’re asking for

Here are some of the key recommendations in our joint submission to government:

  • The ban on unfair trading should include a ‘blacklist’ of specified unfair trading practices.
  • It should be economy-wide, with no carve-outs for financial services.
  • A full range of penalties and remedies should be applied to breaches of an unfair trading ban.

“Making unfair business practices illegal is a necessary step to update Australia’s consumer law, to protect consumers from harm and promote healthy competition,” says Söderlund. 

“New fairness laws must also have strong penalties for businesses who do the wrong thing, to ensure they’re held to account for their bad behaviour.”