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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 6565


Mr SUKKAR (DeakinAssistant Minister to the Treasurer) (12:02): I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I thank the former speaker. The Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 3) Bill 2018 delivers on a range of the measures that this government is undertaking in the consumer space because, as we saw sadly under the former government, we had very little action for six years and we are methodically working our way through. Schedule 1 to this bill delivers on our 2017-18 budget commitment to strengthen the Australian Consumer Law penalty regime to ensure that our Consumer Law continues to be an effective piece of legislation in the current economic environment. Schedule 1 increases the maximum civil pecuniary penalties and penalties for criminal offences for contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law.

Over time, as our economy continues to grow and thrive, the current penalty regime in the Australian Consumer Law has become outdated and insufficient to continue to deter breaches of the law. This ultimately puts consumers at risk of being victims of poor and non-compliant conduct, particularly where the conduct that breaches the law may be highly profitable or the company in breach is a large corporation. Schedule 1 to this bill increases the penalties in the Australian Consumer Law and sends a very clear and simple message to businesses: if you're considering engaging in conduct that would breach the Australian Consumer Law, think again, because the penalties will match the contravention. In the end, this government backs all Australian consumers.

The new maximum penalties for a body corporate include three possible penalty amounts, taking into account the benefit gained from the act or omission and the size of the business based on that body corporate's annual turnover. If the court can determine the value of the benefit obtained from the act or omission, then the new maximum penalty is the greater of $10 million or three times the value of the benefit obtained as a result of that act or omission. If the court can't determine the value of the benefit obtained from the act or omission, then the new maximum penalty is the greater of $10 million or 10 per cent of the annual turnover of the body corporate during that 12-month period—that is, the 12 months preceding, including the month in which the particular act or omission occurred or commenced occurring. The new maximum penalty for a person other than a body corporate is $500,000.

Schedule 1 of this bill secures better protections for all Australian consumers. It provides a real deterrent to businesses considering engaging in noncompliant conduct. The increases to these maximum penalties will hold companies who breach the law accountable and will impose a real financial cost, instead just the cost of doing business. The amendments in schedule 1 have the support of all state and territory governments, who jointly enforce this law with the Commonwealth.

Schedule 2 of this bill amends the Australian Consumer Law to insert a safe harbour from the misleading or deceptive conduct provisions for egg producers who comply with the Free Range Egg Labelling Information Standard. This will provide certainty for producers complying with the Free Range Egg Labelling Information Standard by ensuring that they won't be subject to prosecution under the misleading or deceptive conduct provisions of the Australian Consumer Law in relation to a claim that their eggs are free-range. By providing this certainty, the measure encourages industry adoption of the Free Range Egg Labelling Information Standard, which came into effect on 26 April this year following a 12-month transition period. The Free Range Egg Labelling Information Standard was developed following extensive consultation to provide producers and consumers with more clarity in relation to claims that eggs are free-range. The standard will give consumers and producers a very clear indication of the requirements that must be met when a producer makes a claim that their eggs are free-range. This means that, for the first time, consumers are able to be confident that eggs labelled as free-range were laid by hens with meaningful and regular access to the outdoors and the ability to roam and forage. The standard also makes sure consumers are getting what they pay for when choosing free-range eggs by requiring the disclosure of each producer's stocking density, as well as prescribing a maximum stocking density of 10,000 hens or fewer per hectare. This will now allow the consumer to select the free-range egg brand that meets their own personal preference.

Schedule 3 of this bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act to rectify an inconsistency between it and the National Electricity Law. This inconsistency between the National Electricity Law and the Competition and Consumer Act emerged in 2016 when the National Electricity Law was updated to provide the Australian Energy Regulator with new monitoring and reporting functions relating to the wholesale electricity market. The Australian Energy Regulator will use these functions to determine if there are features of the wholesale electricity market that undermine its effective functioning. As the Competition and Consumer Act is a Commonwealth law it currently takes precedence over the National Electricity Law. This bill will fix this inconsistency, which will ensure that confidential supplier information obtained by the Australian Energy Regulator in performing its wholesale market monitoring and reporting functions under the National Electricity Law remains confidential under the applicable Commonwealth law. This will ensures that our energy regulation regimes remain fair and efficient, and that the Australian Energy Regulator will continue to be a proactive and effective regulator.

I commend this bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): The original question was that this bill now be read a second time. To this the honourable member for Fenner has moved as an amendment that the all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.