Consumer Law Enforcement and Administration – Productivity Commission Research Report

Today the Productivity Commission released its report on the enforcement and administration of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The ACL is currently administered and enforced by 10 different regulators. The Commission found that this ‘multi-regulator’ model was generally working well, but that there is room for improvement.

The Consumer Action Law Centre supports the majority of the findings of the Commission, particularly the Commission’s calls to review alternative dispute resolution services for consumers.

Gerard Brody, CEO of Consumer Action, says that many Australians don’t bother pursuing their complaints through courts and tribunals because it is too difficult or expensive.

“We have seen tribunals becoming increasingly legalistic and adversarial. People with legitimate claims often feel that it is not worth pursuing their complaint further because of the cost and time required to take their case to a tribunal. We need to see improved alternative dispute resolution mechanisms so people can have their complaint resolved quickly, cheaply and fairly.’

Consumer Action is also supportive of the Commission’s finding that financial penalties for breaches of the ACL should be increased.

“The current financial penalties aren’t enough to deter businesses from behaving badly. The fines imposed are being swamped by the profits businesses are making from breaching the law’, said Mr Brody.

Other key findings of the Commission supported by Consumer Action include that:

  • there are grounds for making data on consumer complaints public;
  • all regulators should be given the full suite of enforcement tools, including the power to issue infringement notices;
  • the Commonwealth government should provide additional public funding to support consumer research and advocacy; and
  • consumer bodies should be able to lodge ‘super complaints’ with regulators on behalf of classes of consumers.

Consumer Action was also pleased by the recommendation to improve the performance reporting of ACL regulators, which was also a recommendation from our 2013 report Regulator Watch: The Enforcement Performance of Australian Consumer Protection Regulators.

“We need our regulators to be more accountable to the public. We can’t assess whether our regulators are doing their job properly unless we have access to good quality performance data,’ said Mr Brody.

You can read the Productivity Commission’s full report here: http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/consumer-law/report

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