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Address to the 8th world congress of the international organisation of consumer unions



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56 .

ADDRESS BY THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA,

THE HONOURABLE KEP. ENDERBY Q.C., M.P., TO THE

EIGHTH WORLD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL

ORGANIZATION OF CONSUMER UNIONS, MONDAY 24 MARCH 1975

SYDNEY

I am pleased to have been invited to speak to

you during this opening session. The Australian Government

particularly welcomes the overseas visitors here today

all of whom are distinguished in this field and most

certainly will ensure the success of the Congress.

At a time when world wide inflation is running

at such a high level it is appropriate that this congress

should be emphasizing the cost of living. I feel sure

that the rising cost of living is the greatest single

problem facing consumers today.

Australia’s rate of inflation, like the rest of

the world, has greatly accelerated over the past few

years. Like other Governments, the Australian and

Australian State Governments are devoting considerable

resources trying to minimize the problems that inflation

creates.

However, the solutions' to the inflation, problem

can not be found solely in local policies.

The international character of the inflationary

mechanism can be illustrated by movement in pricing of

food and primary commodities. In 1973 and early 1974 the

rises in this sphere for Australia represented 60% of the

total cost of living increase. That pattern was reflected

in almost every country of the world.

Towards the end of 1974 there was a marked slowing

of the rate of increase in this sphere and it is probable

that the 1975 figures, on present indications, will have

a less important influence on the total inflationary rate.

57.

These statistics and examples underline and

emphasise the benefits to be derived from international

meetings such as this. The dialogue of such international

discussion must eventually influence Governments towards

harmonized solutions for controlling inflation.

When domestic inflation is engendered by pressures

on costs, again a world wide pattern which developed

during 1974, consumers have ultimately to bear the burden.

As a relief to this situation consumers can sometimes turn

to imported goods - taking advantage of short term price

differentials which develop in a world market. In the

second half of 1974 Australian consumers, encouraged by

Government action to reduce tariffs, were able to soften

the impact of price, rises by heavy reliance on imports.

Inevitably, however, such reliance on imports

will threaten the domestic economy and lead to unemployment.

This happended in Australia and in recent months the

Australian Government has restricted imports with

appropriate tariff and quota policies and got the domestic

economy moving with an expansionary Government Budget.

Such moves inevitably affect the consumer.

The Attorney-General of Australia is responsible

for legislation controlling restrictive trade practices.

Here subh control is exercised under the Trade Practices

Act 1974.

Most such practices are undesirable and have

served the interests of the parties engaged in them,

irrespective of whether those interests coincide with the

interests of Australians generally.

Such practices cause prices to be maintained at

artificially high levels - thus fuelling inflation. They

enable particular enterprises or groups of enterprises to

attain positions of economic dominance which are then

susceptible to abuse, they allow discriminatory action

against small businesses, exploitation of consumers and

feather-bedding of industry.

58.

It is the consumer who has borne the burden of

higher prices and of unfair methods of dealing.

The Trade Practices Act is already commencing

to have a desirable effect in the Australian business

community. A more competitive market for goods and

services is beginning to emerge.

The Act lays particular emphasis on consumer

protection. It provides for the first time for the consumer

to· get a fair go on an Australian-wide basis. No longer

will the consumer be remedyless because of enforcement

difficulties resulting from interstate trade.

The Act prohibits corporations from engaging in

conduct that is calculated to mislead or deceive. Corporations

will be subject to prosecution and the imposition of

substantial penalties for such conduct.

Additionally, the Act implies into every consumer

transaction conditions and warranties requiring merchantability

of the goods and fitness for the purpose for which the

goods were bought. Shoddy consumer items should be less

prevelant and the consumer less liable to early replacement

or expensive repair of consumer items.

The Trade Practices Act also contains two other

important features for consumers. 1

The Act provides for the Trade Practices Commission

(which is established by the Trade Practices Act) to make

available to the public general information on matters

affecting the interests of consumers.

For some time now, Committees of the Organization

of Economic Co-operation and Development have emphasized

the need for consumer education. Australia, like most

overseas countries, has until recently, left consumer

education to consumer organizations and schools. Such

education process was obviously inadequate in reaching the

great bulk of consumers.

59.

This new role for the Commission will supplement :

and expand the good work being carried out by these resource

limited bodies and by the agencies recently established by

State Governments. -

The second feature is the provision of legal aid

to consumers to pursue their right of legal remedy provided

in the Act. The Act does not restrict legal aid to consumer

transactions but this appears to be the more urgent field

for the legal aid process to operate.

I should mention one particular area where the

Australian Government has recently acted. The Trade Practices

Bill 1975, presently before the Parliament, prohibits the

unsolicited distribution of credit cards. The mass

distribution of these cards is seen as creating undesirable

inflationary influences. Persons who have not sought

credit are encouraged to use it with a consequential

increase in the demand for goods and services. Where that

demand cannot readily be met the consumer finds his cost

of living rises appreciably.

The Australian Government has also acted to

reduce the effects of cost inflation by the establishment

of the Prices Justification Tribunal for the purpose of

companies justifying the frequency and volume of price

increases for goods and services.

The Government, to co-ordinate its economic

policies, has made submissions to the Tribunal in relation

to such matters as allowance of excessive wage increases

and the need for companies to obtain sufficient profits to

encourage its further investment of capital into business.

The Tribunal has reacted to those submissions and they

should considerably assist in the control of unemployment

and provide greater supply of goods for consumers. I

I wish your deliberations here every success.

As I have already said, inflation and the cost of living

is a problem that must be solved in the interests of all

consumers.

Sydney ,

24 March 1975 '

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