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The Productivity Commission has released its draft report on consumer law enforcement and administration for consultation. The Report examines the effectiveness of the multiple regulator model in supporting a single national consumer policy framework. Submissions are due to the Commission by 23 January 2017.

Key findings from the Productivity Commission’s draft report include the following:

  • Despite the adoption of a single ACL in 2011, Australia’s consumer protection framework remains complex:
    • Two Commonwealth and eight State and Territory regulators administer and enforce the generic ACL.
    • Numerous specialist safety regulatory regimes complement the ACL.
    • Redress is provided via ombudsmen, tribunals and courts, as well as most ACL regulators.
  • The multiple‑regulator model for the ACL appears to be operating reasonably effectively given the intrinsic challenges in having 10 regulators administer and enforce one law.
    • The ACL regulators communicate, coordinate and collaborate with each other through well‑developed governance arrangements.
    • Some regulators have been criticised for undertaking insufficient enforcement. Limited resources may partly explain this.
    • However, the limited evidence available on regulators’ resources and performance makes definitive assessments difficult.

There is scope to strengthen the ACL’s administration and enforcement. Matters to be addressed include:

    • developing a national database of consumer complaints and incidents
    • providing all State and Territory ACL regulators with the full suite of enforcement tools
    • increasing maximum financial penalties for breaches of the ACL
    • exempting interim product bans from Commonwealth regulatory impact assessments
    • centralising powers for interim product bans and compulsory recalls in the ACCC
    • improving the transparency of the resourcing and performance of the ACL regulators.
  • The ACL regulators and specialist safety regulators generally understand the delineation of their remits and interact effectively, notwithstanding a handful of problematic cases. Consumers and suppliers are not always clear about which regulator to contact but they are typically redirected to the right regulator in a timely manner.

Interactions between ACL and specialist safety regulators could be enhanced through:

    •  greater information sharing between ACL and specialist regulators
    •  addressing deficiencies in the tools and remedies available to specialist regulators
    •  regular national forums of building and construction regulators
    •  greater national consistency in the laws underpinning electrical goods safety.
  • Governments should revisit previous Productivity Commission recommendations on industry-specific consumer regulation, consumer dispute resolution, consumer research and advocacy, and access to justice.

As with our previous submission to the issues paper for this review, we intend to make a submission to this draft report. Should you wish to be consulted on this review, please contact Ai Group adviser Charles Hoang, Tel: 02 9466 5462.