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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 13706

Senator NEWMAN (Minster for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (7:46 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—

Madam President, I am introducing a Bill to amend the Trade Practices Act 1974. This Bill will amend the Price Exploitation Code by inserting a new provision prohibiting misrepresentations as to the effect of the New Tax System changes.

Last year, the Government inserted Part VB into the Trade Practices Act 1974 to provide the ACCC with powers to monitor prices, in order to prevent the possibility of consumer exploitation and excessive profit taking in the transition to the New Tax System. The States have adopted the Schedule version of Part VB to establish the National Price Exploitation Code.

The provision contained in this Bill extends the operation of the Price Exploitation Code. The primary aim of this new provision is to enable the ACCC to take enforcement action against misrepresentations by suppliers in relation to the effect of the New Tax System changes.

Specifically, the Bill will prohibit, in the course of supplying goods and services, conduct that falsely represents the effect of the New Tax System changes, or misleads or deceives a person about the effect of the New Tax System changes. A contravention of this prohibition will attract the same penalties as price exploitation generally - a fine of up to $10 million for a body corporate, or up to $500 000 for a person other than a body corporate.

Madam President, these penalties are substantial and demonstrate the Government's commitment to address legitimate community concerns regarding the possibility of consumer exploitation in the transition to the New Tax System.

This provision will apply from when the Bill commences until two years after the implementation of the GST.

To achieve economy-wide coverage of the Bill over incorporated and unincorporated suppliers, the new provision has also been inserted into the Schedule version of Part VB. The amendment to the Schedule may apply as legislation across Australia with little or no action required by the States and Territories, with effect in most jurisdictions from 2 months after date of commencement of this amendment. Each jurisdiction retains the discretion to declare that the amendment takes effect at an earlier date, or does not take effect at all.

The Government will consider, in the context of the 2000-01 Budget process, the resourcing implications to enable the ACCC to carry out the functions and exercise the powers it is given under the amendments to Part VB contained in the Bill.

The Bill also amends the Trade Practices Act 1974 to clarify the ACCC's legal basis for performing certain access undertaking functions. The amendments will apply to existing undertakings accepted by the ACCC, but do not extend the existing powers of the ACCC and are consistent with the original intention of the legislation.

I commend the Bill to the Senate and present the Explanatory Memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Senator Denman) adjourned.