The Australian Government is proposing significant changes to
the law which, while having benefits, also has the potential to
cause uncertainty and risk to organisations that use standard form
Following on from the Productivity Commission's Review
of Australia's Consumer Policy Framework in May 2008 and
the subsequent Council of Australian Governments'
(COAG) agreement to implement a single national
consumer law in October 2008, the Assistant Treasurer and Minister
for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen MP,
today released An Australian Consumer Law: Fair market
– Confident consumers information and consultation
A new Australian Consumer Law
The proposed Australian Consumer Law is aimed at significantly
enhancing consumer protection, reducing regulatory complexity for
business and encouraging the development of a seamless national
The key components of the policy framework involve:
A new national consumer law, to be called the Australian
Consumer Law, based on the existing generic consumer
protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act
(TPA) and included as a schedule to the TPA.
New consumer laws will include:
provisions which regulate unfair terms in consumer
new penalties, enforcement powers and redress options for
a new national product safety regulatory system.
The Australian Government has also proposed that the TPA be
renamed the Competition and Consumer Act to "provide
greater clarity as to the functions of the TPA and reflect the
complementary and mutually reinforcing nature of consumer and
It is intended that the Australian Parliament will have passed
legislation for the implementation of the Australian Consumer Law
by 31 December 2010.
Who is affected?
Organisations providing standard form contracts to consumers on
a "take it or leave it" basis should take note. COAG
agreed to include provisions in the Australian Consumer Law
relating to defining an "unfair" term in a consumer
contract as one which "causes significant imbalance in the
parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract, and
is not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of
In his Media Release today, the Minister stated "the new
Australian Consumer Law will allow consumers and the consumer
watchdog to take action against contract terms that cause detriment
or a substantial likelihood of detriment to consumers. The unfair
contract terms regulation will cover standard form contracts like
those consumers would be used to signing for their utilities,
mobile phones and bank accounts."
Other contexts in which standard form contracts are commonly
used include software end user licences, e-commerce and internet
services, online auctions, airline, bus and rail transport
services, subscription television and magazine services, and health
and fitness centre memberships.
The Minister has invited interested parties to submit comments
in response to the Paper by 5pm, Tuesday 17 March
2009. A copy of the Paper and submission guidelines are
available on the Treasury website.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Sportscraft refunds and returns policy limitations went beyond consumer's rights under the Australian Consumer Law.
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