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Tuesday, 11 April 2000
Page: 15663


Mrs VALE (2:25 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Would the minister inform the House what the government is doing to ensure consumers get the full benefits of the new tax system and, specifically, what progress there has been in making sure Australians are protected in the transition to the new system? Is the minister aware of any alternative programs or policies aimed at protecting Australian consumers?


Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —I would like to thank the member for Hughes for her question. The coalition government is about putting consumers first. We have done that in relation to the transition to the new tax system by giving the ACCC additional powers and resources to deal particularly with price exploitation by businesses during the transition period to the GST.

Today I can inform the House that the ACCC has issued its first GST price exploitation notice, on Video Ezy Australasia. After intensive investigations, the ACCC has formed the view that Video Ezy has been exploiting consumers by charging an extra 15 per cent for video rentals and blaming the 10 per cent GST for that impact. Individual executives of Video Ezy may face fines of up to half a million dollars. The Video Ezy company may face a fine of up to $10 million.

This is a strong warning to business: if you try to rip off consumers during the transition to the new GST system, you will pay a very heavy price. Whilst not all Video Ezy stores have been engaging in a rip-off of consumers, consumers themselves should be aware that they have the power to alert the ACCC to price exploitation. I can advise the House of that because, whilst the Labor Party members for Chisholm and Lalor have been asleep at the wheel, it was in fact their constituents that advised the ACCC of the rip-off by Video Ezy. Out of the suburbs of Hawthorn and Altona in Victoria, the consumers advised the ACCC of what was happening in relation to the GST.


Mr Griffin —Hawthorn? That is in Kooyong, you idiot!


Mr SPEAKER —The member for Bruce!

Opposition members interjecting


Mr Griffin —That is in Kooyong, you moron!


Mr SPEAKER —The member for Bruce! The minister will resume his seat. The member for Bruce is warned.


Mr HOCKEY —The Labor Party can wax and wane all they like, but what they should be aware of is that the member for Hughes asked me about alternative policies in relation to consumer protection and the ACCC. In fact, there are lots of alternative policies coming out of the Labor Party. On the one hand, during the debate recently in the House, the member for Hunter and shadow minister for small business viewed extended misleading conduct powers for the ACCC as `having horrendous implications for Australia's small firms'. He added that `it is not good for small business to pass this bill'. Then the member for Hunter went and voted for the bill. On the other hand, the member for Hotham came into the House and wailed about the importance of consumer protection with the GST, and then he sent the misleading conduct bill off to a Senate committee to delay its implementation to protect Australian consumers.

When it comes to ACCC resources, we have the Labor Party Minister for Fair Trading in Queensland saying that the ACCC does not have enough resources to protect consumers from rip-offs, and the Labor Party minister for fair trading in Victoria writing to the ACCC asking it to allocate resources to help out the Victorian government. So, out of all of that, the Labor Party's policy on consumer protection is confused and contradictory, and the policy of the coalition government is clear: we are putting Australian consumers first.