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Welcome to Country
Thank you, Rami.
And thank you to the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council for your Welcome to Country.
I too would like to acknowledge the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
It is a pleasure to be here today, with representatives from over 60 jurisdictions on Day 1 of the 2023 International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network conference, or ICPEN .
As the Deputy Chair of the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission and as someone who has been advocating for consumer interests and protection for most of my career, I’m particularly excited to be welcoming you to the ICPEN conference under the Australian Presidency.
In the lead up to this week’s conference, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the work of ICPEN.
Something that’s stood out to me as a great strength of this Network is the opportunity it creates for members to learn from each other and network with like-minded agencies from across the world.
I know many of you have travelled long distances to join us here in Sydney this week.
With this year’s conference held in the Asia-Pacific region, I’d like to recognise the unique mix of countries, cultures and economies in this part of the world.
Strong regional engagement is essential in delivering positive consumer outcomes in our region and we’re pleased to be welcoming many guests from across the Asia-Pacific to this week’s conference.
This includes leaders from the Pacific Island consumer protection agencies who convened the first Pacific Island dialogue yesterday.
We look forward to engaging with our neighbouring jurisdictions as well as those from afar over the coming days.
The role of consumer protection agencies
Consumer protection agencies play an essential role for consumers. We:
- Provide guidance for business and consumers about lawful conduct
- Help establish the boundaries of the laws we administer
- Enforce compliance with those laws, and
- Draw on our experience in advising or advocating where new approaches may be required
But a challenge that we all face is how do we ensure the work that we’re doing is effective at addressing the issues that matter to consumers.
Throughout Australia’s ICPEN presidency, we have focussed on helping the Network tackle this challenge and collectively increase our effectiveness for consumers.
To do this, we must ensure that we work with consumers as they are, that is, not as the textbooks tell us how consumers should behave, but it’s how they actually behave.
Often policy can be designed on the assumptions of what people do, but when we engage and learn directly from consumers about what they do and experience, that’s when we can be most effective in our roles of protecting them.
Our enforcement work plays an important role in leading to real change for the benefit of consumers.
It acts as both a deterrence for misconduct as well as adding heft to other compliance tools that we have at our disposal.
Enforcement is an important role of ICPEN. In fact, it represents the ‘E’ in our name.
And we must remember our collective strength as an international network when we engage or take action against global companies that are selling products or services to consumers across our jurisdictions.
Having this collective strength is much more powerful than one jurisdiction acting alone.
Global consumers; global enforcement
We’re increasingly living and working in a global economy.
Given this, we must align our priorities and work together to achieve better outcomes for global consumers.
Through ICPEN, we have great opportunity to do this, and over the coming days of the conference we look forward to exploring this in more detail.
In the next session, you’ll hear from a panel of ICPEN members discussing various innovations in consumer protection.
This session will be a great way to hear how others in the Network are innovating for consumers, helping us learn from each other and growing our understanding of new approaches to the issues we collectively face.
Later today, we have the ‘effectiveness of ICPEN as a Global Network’ session, which will look at how we can better facilitate information sharing among ICPEN members to respond to emerging issues.
This session will also explore the needs of our newer authorities and how we can improve our communication as a network. It will highlight the power of actively working together for consumers worldwide.
And tomorrow, our high-level meetings in the morning will focus on agency effectiveness, including an update on our ICPEN Agency Effectiveness Project and how we can continue this important work.
We’ll also hear from senior officials who will share strategic insights into what has made their agencies more effective. This will be another opportunity to share experiences and learn from other members so that we can improve and progress both at a domestic level, as well as collectively as a global network.
Working as a global network is so important in protecting consumers in today’s global economy and these sessions as well as others throughout the conference will help us achieve this.
This is particularly important as consumers across our jurisdictions are engaged in online marketplaces and expect consumer protection, regardless of national borders.
One area where we have been doing a lot of learning is digital platforms and the broader digital economy.
With the ever-growing online economy, misleading and deceptive online advertising and marketing, as well as dark patterns, are common challenges for many consumer protection agencies across the globe.
The ACCC is in the midst of a 5-year Digital Platform Services Inquiry, where we’ve identified several concerning practices on digital platforms that are leading to harms for consumers.
We’ve made a number of recommendations to address these harms, including recommending an economy-wide unfair trading practices prohibition, and new obligations on digital platforms to address scams, harmful apps, and fake reviews, and to improve dispute resolution online.
While we are focussed on protecting Australian consumers first and foremost, global consistency and cooperation in the context of large multi-national businesses, including digital platforms, is vital to promote compliance and improve enforcement outcomes.
Online consumer issues are one of many focus areas that we as a global network face collectively and is a topic we’ll explore in more detail later this week in our ‘Dark Patterns’ best practice workshop.
As a network, our focus on online consumer issues will need to continue to adapt as we face new challenges in an evolving and adapting market.
I’d now like to turn my attention to the work that we as a network have been doing to address misleading environmental and sustainability claims, or – more simply put – ‘greenwashing’.
Greenwashing is a challenge being felt globally.
As consumers become more conscious of their environmental impact, companies are looking at ways to capitalise on this.
Greenwashing has fast become a key area of focus for the ACCC and other regulators in Australia.
The work of our international colleagues is something Australia is looking at closely as we seek to learn and draw inspiration from how others have cracked down on this practice.
Greenwashing is also a topic of interest for our stakeholders, including businesses, consumer advocates and academics who share the same goals as us.
This keen interest in the topic will be on display in tomorrow’s environmental and sustainability workshop, where we have invited non-ICPEN members, including consumer advocates, to join the discussion on how we tackle greenwashing.
The ACCC works closely with and benefits from the perspectives and experiences of consumer advocates, derived from their work with disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers or from research.
Consumers are actively changing their buying behaviours to be more environmentally conscious, and we need companies to be honest and transparent in how they are addressing climate change to ensure that consumers are not being misled.
ICPEN plays a key role in exploring how we can deal with these problems on a global level.
A key example of this is the 2020 ICPEN sweep into misleading environmental claims which brought together ICPEN members to analyse over 500 websites across the world.
The sweep found that 40 per cent of the green claims examined may be misleading to consumers.
The findings of this sweep and further discussions with our ICPEN colleagues encouraged the ACCC to look more seriously at the issue, including conducting our own sweep.
For the ACCC, having access to past and ongoing learnings from other network members is one of the greatest benefits of being a member and active participant in ICPEN.
We are currently developing guidance that will focus on a set of high-level principles for businesses to follow and will be similar to the guidance already published by many of our ICPEN colleagues.
Given the prevalence and importance of tackling this issue, we’ve also recently established a new internal taskforce focused on sustainability that will help build our expertise, inform and coordinate our efforts across the agency.
In particular, the taskforce will examine and seek to influence a range of issues where environmental and sustainability issues intersect with the application of competition and consumer law, including product safety.
We hope that given the work we are now doing in this space, we can contribute back to the ICPEN community with our lessons learnt, and those that we continue to learn.
Over the coming days of the conference, you’ll have the opportunity to network with and learn from the ICPEN community including in the sessions that I’ve just touched on as well as many others.
A key focus for our Australian presidency has been to focus discussions on agency effectiveness and ways in which we as a network can improve and build upon our effectiveness for consumers.
This is something we kept front of mind when developing the various sessions and meetings for the conference.
Because it’s through agency effectiveness that we can enact real change for consumers.
I hope you enjoy the coming days and discover new ways in which we as consumer protection agencies can be most effective.
Gina welcomed many of you to the conference last evening. I add my welcome. I know I speak for all my ACCC colleagues when I say we are delighted you have been able to join us, and we look forward to getting to know you or renewing connections over the coming days.
Thank you and I’d now like to hand back over to Rami.