The upcoming review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) provides an opportunity to reaffirm the benefits of what we have, and to make the law even better, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims said today (Tuesday).
Delivering the keynote address at the Consumer Law Roundtable in Canberra, Mr Sims discussed some of the ACL success stories.
“The general ACL provisions relating to misleading and deceptive conduct and unconscionable conduct have served us well,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“They provide the ACCC with agility and flexibility, unlike prescriptive provisions which can easily become outdated.”
“The general provisions enable the ACCC to think creatively when considering enforcement action and at times have enabled the ACCC possibly to push the boundaries.”
Citing recent joint investigations into private colleges, Mr Sims said the ACCC backed the ‘one law, multiple regulators’ model which underpins the ACL.
“This model has fostered an unprecedented level of cooperation between consumer regulators...and has increased the effectiveness and responsiveness of consumer protection interventions.”
Mr Sims also flagged some possible areas for review including the adequacy of the ACL penalty regime in delivering deterrence, the application of the ACL to the sharing economy, challenges around adopting trusted international product safety standards, and in relation to phoenix companies.
“The maximum penalty available for a breach of the ACL is $1.1 million for a corporation or $220,000 for an individual. Since the regime was introduced the courts have ordered a total of more than $44 million, with penalties at or above $1 million in 18 cases.”
“But are our penalties strong enough and are they keeping pace with deterrence? That has been the burning question since the Coles judgment in December 2014.”
Mr Sims said the sharing economy is here to stay.
“We need to consider whether the ACL can adequately address any consumer protection issues that may arise within these transactions.”
On international product safety standards, Mr Sims said the ACCC welcomes moves to reduce duplicative domestic regulation.
“However, there are challenges with referencing trusted international standards flexibly in mandatory safety standards within the current framework of the ACL. The review could provide an opportunity to address this.”
“Finally, we strongly believe there is scope to look at the extent to which the ACL facilitates consumers, including business consumers, obtaining redress for contraventions of the ACL when companies phoenix.”
Governments planned an implementation review as part of the process in developing and introducing the ACL in 2010. In 2016, Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand will conduct the review with a final report expected in March 2017.