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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4288


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (11:35 AM) —I rise to speak on the Trade Practices Amendment (Australian Consumer Law) Bill (No. 2) 2010. This bill follows the Trade Practices Amendment (Australian Consumer Law) Bill (No. 1) 2010, which was passed by the Senate only a couple of months ago. Combined, these two bills introduce a comprehensive national consumer law regime. This outcome is the culmination of two reviews called for by the former Treasurer, Peter Costello—and weren’t things more balanced when he was around! These reviews highlighted the costs of the divergent and fragmented approaches to consumer law across the states and territories. The changes in this bill complete the recommendations of these reviews and the subsequent discussions between the Australian government and state and territory governments. Australian consumer laws are generally sound, and the vast majority of consumer transactions in this country are concluded satisfactorily. Nonetheless, this bill delivers a number of important benefits for businesses and additional protections for consumers.

There are four major changes provided for in this bill, and I shall now go through them. Firstly, this bill completes the construction of a truly national consumer law. Secondly, this bill will implement statutory guarantees for consumer goods at a national level. Thirdly, the legislation implements a national product safety scheme by clarifying and implementing various state and territory laws to provide for a national product safety system. Fourthly, the bill will implement laws in relation to unsolicited selling. The coalition has supported each of these changes, though we do note concerns have been brought up by door-to-door salespeople.

The legislation was subject to an inquiry by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee through the excellent work of my Senate colleagues Senator Eggleston and Senator Bushby. It should be noted that the economics committee is by far and away the premier committee in the Senate system. It became evident that there were a number of areas where the legislation could have been improved, and the coalition has been successful in calling for a number of amendments to this bill. I would like to recognise the open and constructive approach taken by the government and the minister in considering and agreeing to these amendments.

There are other concerns with this legislation not explicitly addressed by these specific amendments. In particular, there are issues in relation to unsolicited agreements concerning the requirement for a salesperson to gain agreement to contact the consumer outside of the prescribed hours. I note that delegations dealing with this issue have been in our office of late, and I note their concerns. This agreement cannot be completed in person and must be arranged through mail or by telephone. The coalition believe that some of these issues can be clarified by regulations, however.

The bill as amended contains provisions that the coalition have been able to agree with the minister. Through these amendments we have been able to improve the legislation whilst maintaining our broad support for uniform consumer laws. I commend the bill to the Senate.