National Consumer Congress focuses on consumer law review, protecting disadvantaged and vulnerable

Today’s National Consumer Congress in Sydney will bring together consumer groups, community organisations and government to discuss the upcoming review of the Australian Consumer Law, protecting consumers online, and issues affecting disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers.

Opening the ACCC’s annual event, Chairman Rod Sims said consumer protection laws are an essential part of a successful market place.

“Our consumer laws underwrite confident consumer participation in commerce, enhance transparency and informed choice. They also ensure that businesses compete on merit and not falsehoods and protect all consumers and small businesses from unfairness that has no place in a properly functioning market,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said this year’s congress takes on extra significance with the first review of the ACL only weeks away.

Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand will conduct the review in 2016 with a final report expected in early 2017.

Mr Sims said the review will test whether consumer protections suit the modern market place and whether the regulatory tools and sanctions are delivering compliance.

“Just as the introduction of the ACL built on previous laws and regimes, we are confident that the 2016 review will confirm this new and improved base while taking steps to advance consumer protection.”

Mr Sims listed some of the topics expected to emerge as part of the review including the sharing economy, dealing with phoenix companies, and the reach and size of penalties under the ACL.

“We have often commented that the introduction of $1.1 million pecuniary penalties has been a game changer for regulators in terms of deterrence. But is it enough to deter larger companies?”

“We also think there is a strong case to examine the merits of extending the reach of penalties to cover breaches of the general prohibitions against misleading and deceptive conduct,” Mr Sims said.

“Penalties and other remedies already apply to false or misleading representations and there is often overlap between the two.”

Mr Sims said the review will also look at current laws to see if they are working as intended.

He said the ACCC intends to point out component pricing, unfair contract terms and unsolicited consumer agreements as possible areas of focus.

Other keynote speakers at the congress include:

  • The Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer, The Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP
  • CHOICE, Chair, Nicole Rich
  • Consumer Action Law Centre, Chief Executive Officer, Gerard Brody
  • Emergency paediatrician, Dr Ruth Barker, and
  • The Checkout, Executive Producer, Julian Morrow.

The Congress will also include panel discussions on how the consumer protection regime can adapt to an online world and alternative technologies and the energy sector. One of the main sessions will be a workshop on empowering and protecting disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers.

The Chairman’s speech is available at: Making markets work for consumers