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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 972

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - When the Senate adjourned last night I had been indicating the reasons why the Opposition considered that the benefits of consumer protection were not likely to be served by the approach which this Bill takes. I had indicated, for example, that in the State of New South Wales there is a very substantial code of legislation under which consumers are given protection. It is always a constant problem as to whether the extent of the protection afforded is as comprehensive as it should be. That is understandable in a way because it is the constant problem of government to look after the public interest, and it seems that in that State, as in other States of the Commonwealth, improvements are continually occurring.

Senator Poyser - You would not think that Victoria's legislation was very adequate.

Senator GREENWOOD -No, I am coming to Victoria in a moment. Obviously the AttorneyGeneral feels that this is an area in which the Commonwealth could take a hand, but the result could be that instead of having eight separate sets of laws right throughout the Commonwealth, which we have at the moment, we will be adding a ninth. We will be creating duplicate provisions in some cases, parallel provisions in other cases and inconsistent provisions in almost every State. We say that this will not help the consumer.

I have indicated the position in New South Wales, and now I will mention the position in Victoria. The Victorian Consumer Protection Act was consolidated in 1972, when all the individual pieces of legislation which had been enacted throughout the 1960s were brought together in that Act. The Act established the Consumer Affairs Council, which acts as an advisory body to the Minister on consumer matters, and the Consumer Protection Bureau, which deals with the public on consumer matters and conducts research into consumer problems. Honourable senators should look at the host of matters with which that legislation deals. It deals with trading stamps or coupons and prohibits in that respect the entry into a retail transaction of a third party- a trading stamp company- which makes its profits from the sale of stamps or coupons to a retailer. There is a provision that imposes penalties for false or misleading advertising. There is a provision that imposes a penalty for the misleading marking of prices. There is a prohibition on mock auctions. There is a comprehensive code, which I think every State has, regulating door to door sales and giving to people who buy something at the door a breathing space before they have to be committed to their purchase. There is a provision relating to unordered goods and services. There is a very comprehensive provision relating to pyramid selling which, I think, on any objective examination, would appear to be more comprehensive and to give greater coverage than the provision in the Commonwealth legislation. A provision with regard to merchandise marks is contained in the legislation. Footwear regulations, furniture regulations and safe design and construction of goods are all matters which are dealt with under this legislation.

In 1973 Victoria established a Ministry of Consumer Affairs and a Small Claims Tribunal. The Small Claims Tribunal is a development which, I think, is moving right around Australia. We of the Opposition have the view that small claims tribunals cannot be established by the Commonwealth- apart from for the Territories, over which it has a comprehensive legislative power. I would be interested to hear how the Attorney-General responds to the argument, which we advanced in the House of Representatives and which we advance here, that the small claims tribunals will not be places of resort to which people who complain about offences under the Commonwealth Act may go. If we are right in that view, is that not depriving people of a beneficial tribunal? I am interested to hear what is said. This is an area in which we believe there is confusion. If the Commonwealth legislation is enacted, that is one of the difficulties which will flow. A lot can be said on this matter and, without taking too much time of the Committee, I say that I would be interested to have the Attorney-General's response to some of the matters raised before we embark on other areas.

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