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Acknowledgement of Country
Thank you, Rami, for your introduction.
And thank you to the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council for your Welcome to Country earlier.
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. I acknowledge their continuing connection to the land, sea and community. I would also like to acknowledge and pay my respects to First Nations people who are attending today’s event.
It is a pleasure to be here this evening, welcoming our international and local guests to the opening event for the 2023 International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network conference, or ICPEN .
And what a venue to be commencing this year’s conference in – the Calyx at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Right next door to the beautiful Sydney Harbour and infamous Sydney Opera House.
Given our proximity to the Opera House this evening, I wanted to share what might be a surprising connection between ICPEN and the Sydney Opera House.
Both hail from Danish designers. Indeed, the Sydney Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in the 1950s. And ICPEN was originally a concept designed by the Danish Consumer Ombudsman in 1991.
It is an honour to be hosting this year’s conference in Sydney and we are excited to be bringing together guests from around the world and across Australia to share our experiences and collaborate on how we can collectively best protect consumers.
I would particularly like to acknowledge and welcome the Pacific Island consumer protection officials, who come together as our own ‘Pacific Island dialogue’ for the first time at this year’s conference.
ICPEN’s history and Australia’s presidency
This year marks 30 years since ICPEN’s first presidency event was hosted in 1992 by the then Office of Fair Trading of the United Kingdom.
Three decades is a significant milestone for any institution, but especially when you consider that there’s no underpinning treaty or formal agreement among ICPEN members.
Rather, it is the drive and commitment of ICPEN’s members to collectively cooperate and collaborate, with the goal of protecting consumers globally.
Last year, the ICPEN conference was hosted by Portugal. During their presidency the Network explored alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for consumers and how we can increase collaboration with other consumer networks.
I’m glad we’ve been able to continue the work that Portugal started with other consumer networks - within the OECD, and with the European Commission and Consumers International all featuring in this week’s events.
Australia took up the presidency in July last year, marking our third ICPEN presidency.
In Australia’s previous terms of presidency, we have overseen some significant milestones for the Network.
This included the change of name for the Network in 2002 to what we know it as today – ICPEN – a change which better reflected the work of the Network.
And in our most recent presidency in 2010, we oversaw the formalisation of workstreams of intelligence, best practice and enforcement steering groups. The ACCC’s presidency in 2010 also saw Australia and the US jointly host ICPEN events in our respective jurisdictions.
Under our current presidency we have seen a similar occurrence. We know that it is costly and difficult to travel to Australia, so we are grateful to our Latvian colleagues for hosting the Best Practices Workshop in Riga last December.
This workshop focused on key ICPEN topics including online reviews and influencers, prioritisation and case selection, environmental claims and the future of finance.
Our goal for this year’s presidency has been to reinforce our commitment to the Network’s vision for ICPEN to be recognised as the international body that promotes and facilitates consumer protection enforcement.
We aim to grow the level of cross-agency cooperation on consumer protection issues, which traverse international borders.
This is something we are excited to explore with you over the coming days.
As an international community, serving increasingly global consumers, it is important that we take the time to get together, to learn from one another and to find new ways to collaborate.
Global consumer landscape and the role of forums like ICPEN
Collectively, we have a responsibility for over 5 billion global citizen-consumers.
It feels incredibly timely for us to be meeting as an international cohort and discussing ways in which we can improve conditions for consumers, particularly as consumers face significant challenges right now.
Across the globe, consumers are facing inflation and cost of living pressures, particularly in essential services, exposing the most disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers to greater risk from exploitative conduct.
While these challenges have unique characteristics depending on the jurisdiction you are in, I think we can all agree they are being felt at a global level too and we can learn from each other’s experiences.
As the Network seeks to address global issues, such as manipulative advertising practices, misleading environmental claims and the increased cost of living pressures that I’ve just mentioned, there is a challenge for ICPEN on how we can collectively take action to address these important issues.
And with the rapid growth in the online marketplace, consumers expect to be protected by authorities, regardless of national borders.
As a Network, we have a unique opportunity to work collaboratively as we look to address these challenges.
ICPEN initiatives such as the best practice workshops help to improve the capabilities of members. They provide an opportunity for us to share information and our experiences to make us better informed as we deal with issues in our own jurisdictions.
And it’s from this collaboration, as a strong international network, that we can work together to address global challenges that are affecting consumers right across the world.
We can make a real difference to consumers by bringing about positive changed behaviours, collectively.
This year’s ICPEN conference
As we look ahead at the program over the coming days, there’s ample opportunities for us to collaborate and share our experiences with tackling these challenges to achieve positive outcomes for consumers.
This year is the third hybrid ICPEN conference, creating flexibility for members to participate in person or online.
As I mentioned earlier, a key highlight for this year’s conference is the inclusion of the Pacific Island consumer protection officials.
With this year’s conference held in the Asia-Pacific region, it was important for us to have representation from the Pacific Islands to strengthen regional engagement on consumer related issues.
It was great to convene the first Pacific Island dialogue today, and we look forward to hearing these perspectives throughout the conference as well.
While I’m sure many of you have already earmarked sessions of interest on the conference program, I wanted to share a few that stood out to me that I’m sure will evoke thoughtful discussions.
This includes the ‘innovations in consumer protection’ panel with speakers from across the world showcasing new consumer protection innovations being developed by ICPEN’s member agencies.
The much anticipated environmental and sustainability workshop – ‘enhancing and exploiting consumer trust’ – is of particular interest to Australia given our recent internet sweep on greenwashing and prioritisation of enforcing corporate greenwashing.
And amongst the four best practice workshops, the ‘protection of vulnerable consumers’ session stood out as one that will be of great value as you’ll have the opportunity to hear from people of different consumer groups experiencing vulnerability sharing their lived experiences and challenges as consumers. Hearing directly from consumers is an important part of ensuring our work is effective.
In addition to these sessions and others, there’s also various social events over the course of the coming days, that will provide a great way to network and get to know your ICPEN colleagues.
This includes a formal dinner tomorrow evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art with a guest speaker, Dr Ben Gauntlett, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner.
And on Thursday evening there will be a barbeque at Taronga Zoo, located just across Sydney Harbour, where our international guests will also have the opportunity to meet some of Australia’s unique wildlife.
I hope you enjoy the networking and discussions with your consumer protection colleagues.
Over the coming days, we will have an opportunity together to keep on building and strengthening the might of a Network that represents over 70 economies across the globe.
The learnings from this time will help us all to better engage with global companies from across industries including technology, online retailers, transport and travel traders, pushing them for better outcomes for consumers.
Having the collective strength of ICPEN’s member network is much more powerful and effective than one jurisdiction going it alone.
Working as a team can help us enact positive change for our global consumers.
Thank you and enjoy this evening and the days to come.