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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6474

Mr HAYES (4:02 PM) —I rise today to support the Trade Practices Amendment (Australian Consumer Law) Bill (No. 2) 2010. The bill completes the introduction of Australia’s first national consumer law, a development which is long overdue in this country and is now being delivered by the Rudd Labor government. The bill expands the definition of ‘consumer’ to include small businesses where the goods and services they purchase are less than the value of $40,000. It retains the exemption in the Trade Practices Act by which services provided by a qualified architect or engineer are exempt from the requirements, that they are fit for a purpose or achieve the result made known to them by the consumer. I imagine that has a fair bit to do with the fact that members of the profession are required to be registered and also are subject to their own indemnity provisions.

The bill also broadens the definition of ‘unsolicited consumer agreement’ to include consumers who are contacted indirectly in circumstances such as entering a competition or alternatively returning calls of a supplier where they have initiated the contact, but nevertheless treats them as being what they really are at the end of the day, consumers, when they receive the services or the product. It also provides protection for consumers in relation to unsafe products. It offers greater choice for consumers when deciding whether a contract of supply should be terminated because of rejected goods. At the same time, the bill clarifies the obligations for suppliers to refund moneys when goods and services have been rejected. The bill provides that the return of moneys in those circumstances extends only so far as the services have not at that stage been delivered.

Overall, the bill is a win for consumers and certainly for small business. That is something I know a little about. As I think most people in this place are aware, prior to coming into this place, I ran my own business and so I understand that small business is under constant pressure and is facing ever-changing circumstances. This bill will go a long way to address issues for small business and give a greater degree of clarity.

Small businesses are the backbone of our community, and my electorate of Werriwa alone has some 10,000 registered small businesses. Organisations such as the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry, under the guidance of Harry Hunt as President, and the Cabramatta chamber of commerce, headed up by John Medich, cater well for small business communities in their locations. I know they do a powerful and good job in supporting local charities, community groups and community organisations and they always turn up to support local events. Importantly, they provide guidance, support and networking opportunities to allow local businesses to grow, to flourish and to further contribute to our local economy, particularly and most importantly through the provision of employment opportunity.

It is important for the government to continue to support small business, as it is the driver behind our local economy and very important in the way we go about addressing the global financial crisis. I am very pleased to say that this bill very much goes to the heart of that in the way it supports small business. The bill also supports consumers, particularly through those provisions for the national laws on product safety for consumer goods and services. I am certain that most members in this place would agree that consumers deserve protection from unsafe products or practices. The Australian consumer law completed by this bill allows the minister to take actions such as to ban products, to impose standards on their design in relation to construction or labelling and to order suppliers to recall a product or issue warning notices to the public. All these measures provide adequate protection for consumers for products that could harm them and certainly endanger health and safety.

The Australian consumer law also puts more responsibility on the supplier to notify the minister if they become aware that the product has been associated with the death, serious injury or illness of any person. These amendments should help put the minds of parents at ease, as we have seen a flourish of unsafe children’s products recalled over the last couple of years. Leaving aside toys and children’s equipment, these laws will apply to all areas covered consumer law. They will mandate these responsibilities, and that will be very good for consumers.

I would also like to commend the members of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on their work in this matter. I note that the bill contains recommendations that were moved by the coalition members of that committee, and those recommendations were embraced in a bipartisan way. Hence, I look forward to the opposition’s support of the passage of this bill through the House. I commend the bill.