Check against delivery.

Welcome to Country

Thank you, Uncle Tony Garvey, for your Welcome to Country.

I too would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.


Good morning and welcome to National Consumer Congress 2023.

Today we’re joined by a range of consumer assistance and advocacy groups, academia and other experts, state, territory, and federal government agencies, as well as colleagues from New Zealand.

The National Consumer Congress is an annual event representing a partnership between the ACCC and the consumer movement.

A partnership that truly makes a difference to the work we do and the outcomes we achieve for consumers.

This partnership came to the fore with preparations for today’s event, with several consumer advocacy groups playing an integral role in developing the sessions we have on the agenda today.

I’d especially like to acknowledge and thank Stephanie Tonkin from the Consumer Action Law Centre, Erin Turner from the Consumer Policy Research Centre, and Jessica Kirby from CHOICE for their assistance with today’s event.

As we gather here, consumers face significant challenges, so it is timely to discuss these challenges and develop actionable ways in which we can better protect consumers.

As we do this though, we must remember the importance of genuinely understanding consumers’ experiences and perspectives when we look for ways to address these challenges.

Hearing the consumer voice is at the core of today’s Congress, with this year’s theme being “bringing the consumer voice to regulatory action”.

Throughout the day, we’ll be focussed on fostering discussions around the possible ways forward to better help consumers – ensuring their needs and experiences are at the forefront of our work.

2023-24 Product Safety Priorities

Part of the ACCC’s role in protecting consumers, and that of our State and Territory colleagues, is through product safety.

Each year the ACCC sets new product safety priorities, allowing us to refocus our work on the safety issues impacting Australian consumers.

Consumers rightly expect the products they purchase to be safe, and these priorities are critical to the work we do to protect Australian consumers now and into the future.

I’m pleased to be announcing our Product Safety Priorities for 2023-24 with you today.

This year, we have narrowed our focus to four key priorities.

Our first priority is Product Safety Online

This is an enduring priority that will be refocussed to ensure it meets the challenges consumers face today in the ever-increasing digital economy.

This includes strengthening our detection and prevention of unsafe product listings using surveillance technology to monitor online marketplaces.

We’ll also consider developing best practices to reduce the safety risks from second-hand goods sold online.

We’ll do this in two ways.

Firstly, by encouraging suppliers to adopt best practices to prevent and detect the sale of unsafe goods online as well as monitoring unsafe, non-compliant and banned products online using surveillance technological tools. We will take enforcement action here where appropriate.

Secondly, we’ll collaborate with domestic and international regulators to support initiatives to address emerging safety issues.

And finally, we’ll continue our discussions with Product Safety Pledge signatories as well as assist with complementary strategies for non-signatory online marketplaces to raise awareness of their compliance obligations.

Our second priority is Infant Sleep Products

Again, this is an enduring but broadened priority, this year focussed on implementing strategies to prevent injuries and deaths associated with infant sleep products, including addressing the hazards associated with inclined sleep products and sleep aids.

As part of this, we’ll be conducting investigations into sleep products of highest concern and will take enforcement action where appropriate.

These investigations will be supported by our compliance and enforcement priority for young children, which we announced earlier this year.

We’ll work with relevant stakeholders to proactively address concerning infant products and encourage businesses to conduct due diligence prior to offering products for sale.

We’ll also seek to increase consumer awareness about the safety risks for infant sleep products to support more informed buying decisions by consumers.

Later this week, we will be commencing an education campaign to help consumers and industry become more aware of the product safety risks associated with infant incline products, including inclined sleepers and rockers.

And finally, we’ll continue to consider the development of mandatory standards for infant sleep products, assessing whether further changes are necessary to other existing standards. This will be underpinned by data and intelligence, as well as ongoing engagement with other regulators.

Our third priority is Young Children’s product safety

Young children are among our most vulnerable consumers, hence why this is an enduring and holistic priority for the ACCC and something we take extremely seriously.

This priority encompasses compliance, enforcement and education initiatives focussed on consumer products for young children.

We’ve expanded this to include products such as toys for children under three, products containing button batteries, as well as toppling furniture.

This is a broad body of work, which will involve three stages.

Firstly, we are taking appropriate regulatory and enforcement action against businesses that are not adhering to the regulatory requirements.

Secondly, we will continue our work with suppliers to improve the effectiveness of product recalls, to ensure consumers are not unknowingly using unsafe products.

And finally, we are increasing consumer awareness activities.

Continuing this priority will build on our work from previous years, including developing the world first mandatory standards for button batteries, which were introduced in June 2022 and which, as I speak, are helping to protect Australian children.

Our fourth and final priority is sustainability and maintaining product safety

This is a new priority, reflecting the changing purchasing behaviours of consumers as they seek to be more environmentally conscious and look for more sustainable products.

Our work for this priority will involve activities to support consumer confidence in the safety of sustainable products that are helping to underpin Australia’s transition to net zero and a circular economy.

By making sustainability and maintaining product safety a priority, we’re ensuring that we do not perform our product safety functions in a way that creates unnecessary barriers to industry or governments that are pursuing environmental and sustainability objectives.

This priority will have four key stages.

Firstly, we’ll publish our scoping study on the potential consumer safety hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries and will propose risk mitigation strategies if required.

Secondly, we’ll consider ways to ensure key safety requirements in standards made under the Australian Consumer Law are sufficiently available to successive owners of products.

Thirdly, we’ll update recall guidelines to cover the circular economy.

And finally, we’ll consider the development of best practices to reduce safety risks from reused or second-hand goods that are sold online.

The complexity of the work in addressing the variety of challenges consumers face means that we cannot take on these challenges alone.

The ACCC continues to work closely with other responsible regulators as well as consumer advocate and other interested groups.

This includes through our Product Safety Consultative Committee, now entering its third year, which helps to facilitate engagement with key stakeholders across a range of fields on consumer safety issues.

Internally, we have established a taskforce focussed on sustainability which will build our expertise and inform and coordinate these and other efforts across the agency.

In particular, the taskforce will examine a range of issues where environmental and sustainability issues intersect with the application of competition and consumer law. It will also identify the need for competition exemptions for new technologies and maintaining product safety without impeding economic transformation.

Consumer Congress 2023

I’d now like to turn my attention to today’s event and discussions in the context of the challenges consumers are facing today.

We are all aware of the significant and growing pressure being felt by consumers due to the cost of living challenges. Or as some have referred to it “cost of existing”.

These challenges are magnifying existing vulnerabilities and issues for consumers, as well as creating new ones.

Today’s discussions will seek to explore some of the prevalent issues affecting consumers, expanding on the conversations we started at last year’s Congress.

We’ll have a particular focus today on discussing the next steps and possible solutions that could be implemented to address these prevalent challenges.

This includes disrupting scams; dealing with consumer hardship in the energy and telecommunications sectors; spotlighting consumer guarantees and finance issues in the motor vehicles sector; and issues consumers face in regard to environmental and sustainability claims.

Disrupting scams

Consumers are being inundated with scam messages, advertisements and phone calls, leading to alarming losses.

During 2022, financial losses reported to ACCC Scamwatch totalled more than $569 million, and we know only 13 per cent of victims report to Scamwatch. Losses reported across all channels were $3.1 billion.

The National Anti-Scam Centre will bring together expertise and resources to disrupt scams, raise consumer awareness about how to avoid scams, and link scam victims to services where they have lost money or had their identity compromised.

Shortly, you will hear from people who have suffered loss from scams, leading into a panel discussion about what is and should be done to better protect consumers from scams.

Consumer hardship in the energy and telecommunications sectors

Amidst the rising cost of living, consumers are facing significant hardship in the energy and telecommunications sectors – both of which are essential services that we all rely on.

We know that cost of living pressures are having the greatest impact on consumers experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, which makes it imperative for businesses to improve their hardship support for consumers.

Today, we will also hear more about the work being done to address this within these sectors, as well as what more can be done to improve outcomes for consumers.

Consumer guarantees and finance issues in the motor vehicle sector

Motor vehicles are similarly an essential good for many consumers, particularly those in remote and rural areas, as well as suburban areas with inadequate public transport.

This makes it essential that when there’s a fault with a motor vehicle, consumers receive timely and effective solutions in accordance with their rights.

Despite the considerable compliance and enforcement activities by the Australian Consumer Law regulators over the years, consumers still struggle to exercise their consumer guarantee rights.

The ACCC believes there is a clear case for law reform here, as do many consumer advocates.

We consider the ACL should be amended to make it a contravention of the law:

  • for businesses to fail to provide a remedy for consumer guarantees failures, when they are legally required to do so, and
  • for manufacturers to fail to reimburse suppliers for consumer guarantees failures that the manufacturers are responsible for.

These amendments would significantly change business incentives to comply with their consumer guarantee obligations and more effectively support consumers in securing their statutory consumer guarantee rights.

While we continue to advocate for this reform, we are prioritising taking action to improve industry compliance with consumer guarantees, particularly within the motor vehicle sector.

The detriment for consumers with a faulty car is compounded where they are also locked into an inappropriate loan. These issues can also be exacerbated for First Nations consumer in remote communities.

Today’s panel will discuss these issues further, including the work currently being done, as well as where there are opportunities to do more to improve compliance in the motor vehicle sector and better assist consumers.

Environmental and sustainability claims

Environmental claims are increasingly influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The vast information asymmetry between consumers and businesses means that it’s often near impossible for consumers to verify a green claim.

Businesses that make false claims also have a significant impact on other businesses that do innovate and invest to make their products or operations more sustainable.

Consumer law is only one part of the broader framework that will be needed to effectively tackle greenwashing and support our society’s move to a more sustainable future.

However, we are determined to make a real difference in this area.

Later today, we’ll hear about what’s required to achieve this, as well as the need for regulators, consumer groups, policy makers and industry to work together to tackle misconduct and improve standards.

Consumers’ Federation of Australia Showcase

In a further demonstration of the partnership nature of this congress, straight after lunch we will move into the popular and entertaining Consumers’ Federation of Australia showcase and award. This will be a great opportunity to hear about the research and other work of advocates in the past year.

As I mentioned earlier, the ACCC engages closely and frequently with many of the consumer groups represented here today.

The input of consumer assistance and advocacy groups, who are at the coalface of consumer issues, and who are the integral connection point for the consumer voice to regulators and policy makers, is a critical input to our work.


Policy makers, regulators and indeed businesses must understand the broad impacts of the issues consumers face and keep this at the forefront of our work and decision making.

This includes ensuring the consumer voice is used to inform regulatory action, as well as regulatory design and change.

As consumers continue to face a multitude of issues amid the stress of the rising cost of living, our efforts in better protecting consumers cannot be overstated.

The discussions we have today will assist us in identifying tangible ways in which we can address some of the most prevalent issues consumers face.

I’d now like to introduce a pre-recorded message from Assistant Treasurer, the Honourable Stephen Jones MP.

Thank you.