With Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping
It’s hard to believe that until 10 years ago there were 17 different national, state and territory laws covering consumer issues in Australia.
They were all replaced on 1 January 2011 with one law – the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which meant that no matter where they are in this country, consumers can know their rights and traders their obligations.
We are all consumers in one form or another, so as the ACL enters its second decade, Consumer Protection has taken the opportunity to remind people in a social media campaign how the law protects them from the likes of unscrupulous traders, rip-offs or scams; restrictions on refund or warranty rights; unsafe products; and unfair contract terms.
The ACL has empowered consumers to advocate on their own behalf with traders, manufacturers and retailers, resulting in some significant wins.
When those negotiations fail, consumers can come to us as we seek to enforce those laws. In the last three years alone, Consumer Protection WA has handled more than 18,000 ACL related complaints, while $392 million in compensation has been awarded nationally as a result of court actions, enforceable undertakings and other ACL related negotiations.
One of my favourite examples of when the ACL stepped up to protect consumers was after a diet company had been making outlandish claims about their product.
Even though we could have pursued them for a financial penalty in court, we took a more creative approach in the form of an enforceable undertaking that required the trader to advertise across the country about how they had misled consumers, offer refunds and make a financial payment to a charity working within the nutrition industry.
Sometimes the most appropriate course of action is in court and the penalties can be significant – in 2019-20, more than $197 million was awarded in fines nationally against companies that have done the wrong thing.