In a recent speech to the National Consumer Congress, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel, said there were a number of potential improvements to the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
- civil pecuniary penalties
- consumer redress, and
- uniformity of fair trading laws.
"Currently, penalties for wrongdoing can only be obtained through
criminal proceedings," he said. "The ACCC is committed to taking
criminal actions where the conduct warrants such a response. However,
criminal actions are slow and require significant resources, not to
mention the need to meet a very high standard of proof to achieve a
result. The ability to obtain civil pecuniary penalties, declarations,
injunctive relief, and other measures such as corrective advertising
within a single action would significantly enhance the ability of the
ACCC to obtain effective outcomes and provide a higher degree of
"The second issue is the need for the ACCC to have the ability to
seek court orders to obtain consumer redress for large numbers of
consumers. Currently, the ACCC can only obtain consumer redress in
relation to persons who provide written consent. This limits the
ability of the ACCC to obtain such redress, due to the administrative
difficulties associated with locating relevant consumers prior to
taking an action. In cases involving large numbers of consumers over a
broad geographic region – exactly the type of case the ACCC is best
placed to take, and increasingly likely to arise as markets become more
national and international in character – the difficulties of obtaining
written consent from thousands of consumers is prohibitive."
If the ACCC had the ability to seek orders for redress for
consumers, it would increase deterrence against wrongdoing, and provide
consumers the ability to gain redress, particularly in situations where
many consumers may have lost small amounts.
"The third issue … is the need to reduce the level of inconsistency
between state, territory and commonwealth fair trading laws."