Second Reading - Consumer Law

I rise to speak in support of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018. This bill is a measure to clarify and strengthen consumer protections relating to consumer guarantees, unsolicited consumer agreements, product safety, false billing, unconscionable conduct, pricing and unfair contract terms.

The protection of consumers is a critical role for government. The recently debated legislation to protect the strawberry industry—I'm sure we'll see more of that today—and the safety of consumers is another demonstration of how important consumer protection is. The fact that the government has moved so quickly on that issue is demonstration of the high value it places on consumers being able to trust that which they buy in the market.

The Australian Consumer Law commenced operation as Australia's first nationwide consumer protection law in 2011, replacing provisions in 20 Commonwealth, state and territory laws on consumer protection and fair trading with a single national law. This means that, for the first time, consumers will have the same rights no matter where they live in Australia. The Australian Consumer Law, which we already have some familiarity with, includes: a national unfair contract terms law, covering standard form consumer and small business contracts; a national law guaranteeing consumer rights when buying consumer goods and services; a national product safety law and enforcement system; a national law for unsolicited consumer agreements, covering door-to-door sales and telephone sales; simple national rules for lay-by agreements; and penalties, enforcement powers and consumer redress options for when things go wrong.

This has been an important micro-economic reform that has provided quite substantial benefits to all Australians. A national and consistent approach to consumer law and policy enables all Australian consumers to enjoy the benefits of consistent rights wherever they may be, and allows all Australian businesses to obtain some efficiencies through a single and simplified national law. This makes things easier for all Australians, whether they be consumers or in business.

Well-informed, confident consumers are a vital element of a strong and vibrant economy. The introduction of the Australian Consumer Law has been good for both consumers and businesses. Consumers are more empowered, business compliance costs have reduced and there are fewer disputes. This is because having one national Australian Consumer Law means that we have cut down on red tape. For example, before the Australian Consumer Law, businesses operating in more than one state or territory had to comply with different laws, wasting time and money and creating confusion.