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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 6559

Mr TIM WILSON (Goldstein) (11:38): While this is a relatively straightforward piece of legislation, it's an important one that the government supports and that all members in this House support. The Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 3) Bill deals with three specific schedules around laws directly affecting consumers which need to be properly addressed. Schedule 1 deals specifically with issues around consistency and making sure that the laws and penalty regimes that exist under consumer law are contemporary and reflect the modern reality. This is a very straightforward exercise, but it is actually critically important to do. Across this great nation every single day millions of consumers go about buying-and-selling behaviour to procure and consume goods and services to be able to support themselves, their families and their communities. People should not be taken advantage of. One of the foundational principles of a free and open market is that there be a sufficient amount of information available to make sure that consumers are informed about a product or a service if they're seeking to purchase it and that people are not misled and not taken advantage of.

Of course, there is always a scenario where people may want to take advantage of consumers or other businesses that act as consumers, and that may be through providing deceptive conduct or engaging in some sort of fraud. Making sure that you have a penalty regime that's proportionate and reflects the reality of making sure that those who take advantage of consumers suffer the consequences is critically important, because over time—and this happens in other areas of law as well—if the penalty regime is not sufficient people may see the advantage in simply allowing for the breach of the law and paying the penalty. By having modern and consistent laws that work for 21st century consumers, particularly in an age of technology, people are able to buy things at a much faster rate and perhaps with less degree of scrutiny, so it's important to have this regime in place. This principle of support that underpins free and fair competition is something that this government should be proud of and proud to support.

Schedule 2 of this piece of legislation directly deals with making sure that consumers, who are becoming increasingly mindful of their consumer behaviour, are protected under consumer law, particularly around making sure that, when they purchase something as straightforward as eggs, the eggs they buy are the eggs they get. In the Goldstein electorate, there happen to be lots of people who buy free-range eggs, including myself. Whether you're down at Bay Street Coles, Woolworths Bentley or, of course, one of the thousands of people every weekend that go to farmers' markets, like the one organised by the great people of Hampton Rotary in Sandringham or the one organised at Beaumaris North Primary School by Beaumaris Rotary in Beaumaris, when you buy eggs you want those eggs to be the ones you purchased. You also want to make sure that there are proper protections in place under law to make sure that if people are selling free-range eggs they are actually free-range eggs and that there are proper measures in place to work with business to be able to make sure that those people who sell these products are doing the right thing.

By making some relatively simple amendments around the safe-harbour provision, we're increasing the confidence and capacity of people to be able to provide the product. We know what happens when you increase supply, funnily enough: generally speaking, it should lead to lower prices, or at least more competitive prices. This makes sure that consumers get the benefit of that and do not experience deceptive or misleading conduct in the process of buying eggs. I know that across Goldstein, while it may not be at the front of everybody's mind around legislation, these are the sorts of simple things this government can do to make sure that consumers are better protected, to ensure that consumers, no matter where they are in our economy or society, get fair and equitable treatment and to provide certainty for businesses so that they can make investments and engage in providing products to the market to meet market demands.

The principle of the amendment around schedule 3 is related to the Australian Energy Regulator and the information it collects around confidentiality. What this provision predominantly does is provide consistency across the market and across legislation, and that's a fundamental good. It sits across a backdrop of an increasingly challenging energy environment across Australia, where information is more important than ever to be able to inform the market and to make sure that governments make sensible, measured, proportionate policy decisions to try to deliver reliability, security and cheaper prices for Australian consumers. It sits across a backdrop where government involvement in the market, as much as it is testing at times, is necessary. The framework and the design of the market is very important, particularly when you look at leadership policies like the National Energy Guarantee, which is going to be critical in delivering the three pillars of reliability, security and affordability. It is important that we have the information available to us.

A condition of people providing information is a sense of confidence. The information they provide, at times, may be market sensitive, and therefore requires a certain degree of confidentiality, and sometimes it's consumer sensitive as well. If you look at what this government is doing, the core focus of its agenda around energy is to deal with the problems with the legacy that we have inherited over decades through a mixture of policy incoherence and intransigence. The federal government has a direct responsibility for dealing with international commitments, environmental commitments and other policy commitments, particularly around the reduction of emissions. That directly affects the sectors that are principally responsible, which is predominantly the stationary energy sector. Of course, the states predominantly have responsibility for stationary energy.

What we have had is an incoherence, a lack of consistency and a misalignment between what the federal government has been doing and how the states have behaved in turn. That is what the National Energy Guarantee is focused on addressing. It's actually focused on making sure that, when the federal government acts, it's proportionate and is acting consistently with the states so that investors can have security and confidence about the money they're going to put down over long time horizons. They need to be able to invest in energy to deliver lower prices and supply the grid—and similarly for not just those in the wholesale business for supply but also, of course, those people investing in network infrastructure, all the way through to retailers. That's about giving consumers confidence and business the confidence that they need to be able to meet the increasing demands that this country expects.

Of course, energy consumption is critical not just to the energy demands of households—and we obviously regularly reflect on that, particularly household bills, because I know everybody is sensitive to that, including me and including the people of Goldstein—but also because there is a foundational input into the energy market for businesses to be competitive. Across the entire south-eastern corridor of Melbourne, we have businesses, particularly in areas around heavy manufacturing and the supply of components for industry, and also many other manufacturing businesses, who need that confidence in the energy market and affordable energy so they can be competitive on the world stage. That is not just the world stage for supplying to the global market. They can be suppliers and contributors to other parts of the market for other Australian businesses that then want to export into the global marketplace.

Every little tweak in every little measure, including those introduced in the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 3) Bill 2018, is a critical part of building the framework and the infrastructure to achieve that degree of certainty. The more information we have, the more we can make decisions about market design to make sure that we can deliver—for those households, for those struggling families, particularly those with the least flexibility, and, in addition to that, for those people and those businesses who help provide the foundations and the pillars for the growth of our economy.

That is because the coalition, and particularly the Liberal Party, believes in free markets. The Liberal Party foundationally believes in strong competition in the economy, driven by people who are doing the right thing to drive growth in the economy and provide the goods and services that people demand. Even something as technical as this piece of legislation is critical as part of that agenda. That's why it has been brought forward by the Turnbull coalition government as part of building this nation's future.