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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20141

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (3:44 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Trade Practices Act 1974 to improve the way the Act delivers protection to Australian small business and consumers.

The reforms contained within this bill are designed to ensure that the Act's mechanisms for creating a competitive and fair environment work more effectively, thereby enhancing the welfare of all Australians.

This bill does not change the substantive legal rights and obligations of any person. Rather, it ensures that the enforcement and remedies provisions of the Trade Practices Act remain relevant in Australia's current economic and social environment.

The amendments clarify and expand the sanctions a Court may impose where the Trade Practices Act has been breached. The bill will also improve access to the remedies available under the Act and enhance the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's powers to ensure the efficient operation and enforcement of the Act.

In a globalised economy, it is imperative that Australian businesses operate in a competitive domestic environment in order to remain internationally competitive. This can only be achieved where the law encourages competitive practices.

The bill incorporates a package of amendments that seek to consolidate the legal rights and responsibilities of the Australian community by ensuring the Trade Practices Act operates effectively. The amendments target the problems documented by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its report Compliance with the Trade Practices Act.

The bill also incorporates amendments to the Act announced by the Government in response to the Joint Select Committee on the Retailing Sector.

This bill is about consumer sovereignty. It is about promoting competition, ensuring fair outcomes in the marketplace, and about benefiting the Australian community.

It will do this by:

· increasing the maximum penalty levels under the Act to $1 million for offences against the consumer protection provisions;

· allowing the ACCC to protect consumers and small business by intervening in private proceedings and instituting representative actions;

· extending the limitation periods of the TPA to 6 years; and

· ensuring the Courts give preference to compensation over fines and pecuniary penalties.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the Trade Practices Act continues to deliver appropriate protection to Australian business and consumers while promoting the availability of the choice, information and redress necessary to ensure that business and consumers can make their own decisions.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the 2001 autumn sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.