Review of Australia's Consumer Policy Framework

Inquiry report

This inquiry report was released in two volumes on 8 May 2008. Volume 1 contains the Terms of Reference for the inquiry, Key Points, Summary and Recommendations, and Volume 2 contains the chapters and appendices.

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VOLUME 1 - Contents

Preliminaries
Cover, Copyright, Signing page, Preface, Terms of reference, Extension Letters

Key points

Summary

   Why this inquiry?

   How has the Commission approached the task?

   How well does the current regime measure up?
   Some important strengths
   Significant weaknesses
   There is scope to do much better

   Objectives for the future consumer policy framework

   More effective and responsive institutional arrangements
   Shared responsibility has benefits
   But the division of responsibility needs to change
   A more nationally coherent approach is needed
   A single national generic consumer law should be implemented
   A dedicated review program for industry-specific consumer regulation
   National regimes for credit and energy services
   Other initiatives in some key specific areas
   Some supporting changes to institutional arrangements

   Dealing with 'unfair' contract terms that cause detriment
   What is the concern?
   A new national provision is warranted
   How should the new provision operate?

   Guarding against unsafe and defective products
   Improving awareness of the implied warranty provisions
   Where next on consumer product safety?

   Improving access to remedies and enforcement
   A layered system of redress
   Encouraging proportionate and effective enforcement

   Empowering consumers
   More useful disclosure requirements
   Better consumer information and education programs
   Enhancing consumer input into policy making

   Helping vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers

   Other considerations bearing on the future framework
   Facilitating economic integration with New Zealand
   Responding to developments in electronic and mobile commerce
   Small business considerations

   How big is the prize?
   The net gains would appear to be considerable
   Some experimental estimates support this conclusion

   An eye to the future as well as the present

VOLUME 2

Preliminaries
Cover, Copyright, Contents, Abbreviations

A summary of the Commission's proposals

Recommendations

1   Why this inquiry?
1.1   Setting the scene
1.2   The Commission's task
1.3   The Commission's approach
1.4   A road map to the rest of the report

2   Overview of the current consumer policy framework
2.1   Background
2.2   The current framework
2.3   What happens in other countries?
2.4   What problems need to be addressed?

3   Objectives for a future consumer policy framework
3.1   The role of consumers, effective competition and consumer policy
3.2   When should governments intervene?
3.3   Government intervention is not costless
3.4   Objectives for the consumer policy framework
3.5   Identifying and evaluating policy instruments

4   Generic consumer regulation
4.1   The need for a more nationally coherent approach
4.2   The case for a new national generic consumer law
4.3   Who should enforce the new generic law?
4.4   Other matters

5   Industry-specific consumer regulation
5.1   When is an industry-specific approach warranted?
5.2   Reviewing specific consumer regulation
5.3   National regimes for credit and energy services
5.4   Other issues in key specific areas

6   Supporting institutional changes
6.1   Elevating the importance of consumer policy
6.2   Any potential role for financial incentives?
6.3   Facilitating timely and effective policy changes

7   Unfair practices and conduct
7.1   Introduction
7.2   A general provision relating to unfair practices?
    7.3   Variations and a national generic consumer law
7.4   Misleading or deceptive conduct
7.5   Unfair contracts legislation

8   Defective products
8.1   Introduction
8.2   Merchantable quality and fitness for purpose
8.3   Product liability arrangements

9   Access to remedies
9.1   Introduction
9.2   Criteria for assessment and some principles
9.3   Making a complaint
9.4   Alternative dispute resolution
9.5   Court action
9.6   Consumer representation

10   Enforcement
10.1   Introduction
10.2   Outline of the current enforcement landscape
10.3   Suitability of current enforcement powers
10.4   Regulatory consistency

11   Empowering consumers
11.1   Introduction
11.2   Disclosure issues
11.3   Consumer information and education initiatives
11.4   Consumer input into policy making
11.5   Consumer policy research needs
11.6   Institutional arrangements for funding consumer advocacy and research

12   Vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers
12.1   What is consumer vulnerability and disadvantage?
12.2   Current approaches to the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers
12.3   Improving outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers

13   Other considerations for the future framework
13.1   Consumer policy and trans-Tasman economic integration
13.2   E-commerce
13.3   Small business considerations

14   How big would the net benefits be?
14.1   Placing the costs and benefits into a framework
14.2   Looking at the impact in more detail
14.3   Some implications of the qualitative analysis
14.4   Quantifying these costs and benefits
14.5   Experimental estimates of the costs and benefits of the suite of reforms
14.6   The judgment in perspective

A   Public consultation

B   Behavioural economics and consumer policy

C   International approaches

D   Unfair contract terms

E   Credit regulation

F   Utility services

G   Occupational licensing

References