Each jurisdiction also has a wide range of sectoral consumer protection laws tailored to the needs of different economic sectors, from hairdressers` regulation to electricity retailing8. These other laws are under discussion in this process – and I will talk about them later – but the first step in reforming our consumer legislation will be the implementation of the Australian Consumer Act. The new framework will also be supported by a relaunch of the MCCA processes, which is heavily managed by our current President, Ann Driscoll, reflecting our new approach to consumer policy. 20 See www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2009-07-02/index.cfm#regulatory and www.coag.gov.au/coag_meeting_outcomes/2009-07-02/docs/IGA_australian_consumer_law.pdf. Over the past year, consumer policy representatives have conducted a detailed review of consumer protection legislation to ensure that Australian consumer legislation can contain provisions that improve its functioning, taking into account the considerable experience of states and territories in policy development and implementation. The Act will also introduce a new set of enforcement powers that generally exist at the state and territory level, but which, for the first time, are becoming consistent and are being used by all Australian consumer protection authorities. These include: 10 See MCCA (2008) Release – August 15, 2008 on www.consumer.gov.au/html/download/MCCA_Meetings/Meeting_20_15_Aug_08.pdf. These developments are understandable – governments are under pressure to address specific concerns every day, and the answer is often to do something. However, the consequences of such unilateral action by certain jurisdictions – both for businesses and consumers – are not always fully recognized.
The consumer policy review reflects this approach in the national objective of consumer policy: ”improving consumer welfare by strengthening consumer protection, fostering effective competition and allowing consumers to participate with confidence in markets where both consumers and suppliers act fairly. Because of their complexity, these laws have a negative impact on competition, innovation and the efficiency of the economy. In 2008-093, Australians spent $655.13 billion (excluding housing), which clearly shows the negative impact on consumers because of a legal framework that does not support these consumer choices. Ministers agreed to check the effectiveness of existing laws with respect to legal conditions and safeguards. To this end, the National Education and Information Advisory Task Force conducted a detailed quantitative and qualitative study of Australian consumers` experience with legislation14.