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Consumer law enforcement and administration

Study report

Released 12 / 04 / 2017

This report sets out some options for improving consumer protection under the multiple-regulator model for administering and enforcing the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and through changes to the broader consumer protection framework.

The report was sent to government on 29 March 2017 and released on 12 April 2017.

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There has not been a government response to this inquiry yet.

  • Key points
  • Contents
  • Despite the adoption of a single Australian Consumer Law (ACL) in 2011, Australia's consumer protection framework remains complex.
    • Two commonwealth and eight state and territory regulators administer and enforce the ACL.
    • Numerous specialist safety regulatory regimes complement the ACL.
    • Redress is provided via tribunals, courts and ombudsmen, and most ACL regulators.
  • The multiple-regulator model for the ACL appears to be operating reasonably effectively given the intrinsic challenges in having 10 regulators administer and enforce one law.
    • The ACL regulators communicate, coordinate and collaborate with each other through well-developed governance arrangements.
    • Some regulators have been criticised for undertaking insufficient enforcement. Limited resources partly explain this, but regulator culture may also play a role.
    • However, the limited evidence available on regulators' resources and performance makes definitive assessments difficult.
  • There is scope to strengthen the ACL's administration and enforcement, including through:
    • developing a national database of consumer intelligence
    • ensuring that data on consumer complaints published by ACL regulators are meaningful
    • providing all state and territory ACL regulators with the full suite of enforcement tools
    • increasing maximum financial penalties for breaches of the ACL
    • exempting interim product bans from commonwealth regulatory impact assessments
    • centralising powers for interim product bans and compulsory recalls in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
    • improving the transparency of the resourcing and performance of the ACL regulators.
  • The ACL regulators and specialist safety regulators generally understand the delineation of their remits and interact effectively, notwithstanding a handful of problematic cases. Consumers and suppliers are not always clear about which regulator to contact but they are typically redirected to the right regulator in a timely manner.
  • Interactions between ACL and specialist safety regulators could be enhanced through:
    • greater information sharing between ACL and specialist regulators
    • addressing deficiencies in the tools and remedies available to specialist regulators
    • regular national forums of building and construction regulators
    • greater national consistency in the laws underpinning electrical goods safety.
  • State and territory governments should tackle the current impasse on standardising electrical goods safety laws.
  • Governments should enhance ACL consumer redress, including by:
    • reviewing the bodies and powers for delivering ACL alternative dispute resolution services
    • implementing the Commission's Access to Justice Arrangements recommendations.
  • Previous Commission proposals to address gaps in consumer policy research and advocacy should be revisited. There are also grounds for enabling designated advocacy groups to make 'super complaints' to ACL regulators, subject to appropriate guidelines.
  • Preliminaries - Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Contents, Acknowledgments and Abbreviations
  • Overview - including key points
  • Recommendations and findings
  • Chapter 1 About the study
    • 1.1 The study's scope
    • 1.2 The Commission's approach
  • Chapter 2 The consumer protection landscape
    • 2.1 Recent changes to the consumer protection landscape in Australia
    • 2.2 Administration and enforcement of the ACL
    • 2.3 Specialist consumer protection regulation
    • 2.4 Other elements of the consumer protection landscape
  • Chapter 3 How is the ACL multiple-regulator model performing?
    • 3.1 Overview of the operation of the multiple-regulator model
    • 3.2 Consistency in administration and enforcement
    • 3.3 Strategies for compliance and enforcement
  • Chapter 4 Strengthening enforcement and administration under the model
    • 4.1 Institutional arrangements for the generic national product safety regime
    • 4.2 Information sharing
    • 4.3 Enforcement tools and penalties
    • 4.4 Accountability and performance reporting
  • Chapter 5 Interaction between specialist safety and ACL regulators
    • 5.1 Australia's specialist safety regimes
    • 5.2 Regulators' understanding of the delineation of their responsibilities
    • 5.3 Consumers' and suppliers' understanding of the delineation of regulatory responsibilities
    • 5.4 Interaction between ACL and specialist safety regulators
    • 5.5 How might interaction be improved?
  • Chapter 6 Other reforms to the consumer protection framework
    • 6.1 Reform of industry-specific consumer regulation
    • 6.2 Consumer redress
    • 6.3 Consumer policy research and advocacy
  • Appendix A Terms of reference
  • Appendix B Consultation
  • References

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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