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.