While professional associations help educate members and maintain high standards and ethical behaviour, they must ensure their membership criteria, voluntary codes and advice to members comply with the Competition and Consumer Act.
Professional associations must not:
- develop codes of conduct or voluntary professional rules that don’t comply with the Act
- negotiate contracts, arrangements or understandings on behalf of members that:
- relate to prices or contracts unless the ACCC has granted an exemption
- restrict members' dealings or impede competition
- insist that members use advertising that:
- confuses or misleads consumers by taking advantage of the knowledge gap that often exists between highly skilled professionals and the public
- limits competition within the profession.
Other restrictions protected by legislation generally fall outside of the Competition and Consumer Act and are overseen by the National Competition Council.
Professional associations should take the following steps to ensure they are operating within the law:
- check that any self regulation codes, restrictions and sanctions are transparent, comply with the Act and do not impede competition
- only provide industry pricing information as a recommendation or guide. Never impose these through disciplinary actions against members as this could be seen as restricting trade or fixing prices
- ensure that any prices you recommend are developed on the basis of costing or other calculations by an outside party and that individual members have had a direct hand in these calculations
- ensure that members understand they must independently determine their own prices and negotiate their own contracts. This may mean educating members on how to calculate and set prices their own prices and conduct their own negotiations
- ensure membership rules are transparent and applied equally to all potential members, including substantiating reasons for accreditation or qualification requirements
- check that the rules are not overly restrictive and do not have the effect of limiting competition.
Educate your members about misleading advertising to ensure advertising is:
- not false or misleading
- genuinely in the interests of consumers and not a means of restricting individual professionals from promoting their particular skills
- uses language that the average consumer can understand.
Help consumers better understand the nature and value of the services your members provide by providing information on factors they should consider when selecting an appropriate professional.