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Taking action, gaining trust: Indigenous consumer affairs improved by national action plan.

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The Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs (MCCA) has released its mid-term report on the implementation of the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy (NICS) Action Plan 2005 - 2010.

The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, the Hon Chris Bowen MP said the plan committed Commonwealth, State and Territory consumer agencies to:

• improve Indigenous consumers’ knowledge of their rights and obligations under consumer protection laws and achieve greater Indigenous access to consumer protection programs;

• improve the behaviour of traders, through education and compliance activity, to reduce detriment experienced by Indigenous consumers; and

• promote effective engagement and partnership between consumer protection agencies, Indigenous organisations, business and other government agencies to improve consumer outcomes for Indigenous people.

Mr Bowen said consumer agencies across the nation recognised the need to continuously improve service delivery and outcomes to Indigenous consumers.

“We must make sure we provide culturally appropriate services and support to better engage indigenous Australians and provide improvements to their experiences as consumers,” he said.

Mr Bowen noted that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) are strongly committed to the needs of Indigenous consumers through effective partnerships with organisations such as the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN).

The Action Plan identifies actions under eight key priority areas:

• Employment of Indigenous staff in consumer agencies. • Advocacy of Indigenous consumers’ interests. • Housing. • Financial management and banking. • Motor vehicles and boats. • Trading practices. • Arts industry. • Managing Indigenous community


Mr Bowen said the Action Plan is a living document - regularly monitored, evaluated and progress towards its implementation reported.

“Governments have embraced the notion of a consistent, nationally agreed approach to improving Indigenous consumer affairs and this plan is the road map for success,” Mr Bowen said.

“One example of collaboration between agencies was the joint preparation of A guide to enforcement of Indigenous consumer matters by the ACCC and ASIC. The guide provides best practice principles for all Australian consumer protection agencies on how to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and better identify address issues facing Indigenous consumers.”

A copy of the mid-term report and further details of the action plan are available from the NICS website

Key achievements by Australian Government agencies under the Action Plan

• The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) have established a strong working relationship with a number of Indigenous and non-government organisations such as the

Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) and Reconciliation Australia. ICAN provides consumer advice and assistance to Indigenous consumers throughout QLD. The ACCC and ASIC is also a member of the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network steering committee. • ASIC and the ACCC developed A Guide to

Enforcement: Indigenous Consumer Matters which has been approved by the Standing Committee of Officials of Consumer Affairs (SCOCA). A Guide to Enforcement: Indigenous Consumer Matters is a comprehensive guide for consumer protection agencies on how to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities; better identify issues facing Indigenous consumers and how to obtain and present evidence from Indigenous consumers to support enforcement or compliance action against alleged wrongdoers. • The Australian Competition and Consumer

Commission (ACCC) has engaged in vigorous pursuit of traders breaching the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

o Following proceedings instated by the ACCC in 2004 the Federal Court ordered Mr Keshow (of National Maths Academy) to pay compensation to Indigenous consumers and subsequently banned the trader from entering Northern Territory Indigenous communities to conduct his business after finding that he had engaged in unconscionable conduct in the promotion and supply of educational materials.

o In February 2008, the Federal Court declared that EDirect Pty Ltd trading as VIPtel Mobile engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct during telemarketing calls promoting mobile phone packages following proceedings instituted by the ACCC. Many customers were contracted to 24 month commitments while living in places

without network coverage. More than 150 customers with no network coverage will receive refunds and will be able to cancel contracts with no penalty as a result of the ACCC action. o The ACCC recently instituted

proceedings against the operators of Doongal Aboriginal Art and Artefacts. The proceedings relate to alleged representations that some artists whose works Doongal promoted and sold were of Australian Aboriginal descent when in fact that is not the case. • The release by the ACCC of FairStore, a guide

for owners and operators of retail stores serving Indigenous communities in rural and remote areas of Australia. The guide aims to enhance staff compliance with fair trading and other relevant laws and to encourage best practice in the operation of community stores. The ACCC also published FairStore - for consumers to inform Indigenous consumers about their rights and obligations when dealing with community stores. • The ACCC launched copies of two fact sheets

on Indigenous art and craft at the Desert Mob Symposium in Alice Springs. A small business fact sheet: Unconscionable conduct in the Indigenous art and craft sector and a consumer publication Your consumer rights: Indigenous art and craft a DL size flyer were developed by the ACCC’s to address unscrupulous conduct in the sector. These fact sheets were subsequently distributed nationally among participants of the Indigenous art and craft sector. • The ACCC provided assistance to the Senate

Inquiry into Australia’s Indigenous visual arts and craft industry in 2007. The Senate Inquiry report highlighted the importance of the development and implementation of the Indigenous Australia Art Commercial Code of Conduct (the Code). The Code is a joint initiative of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), Desart and the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) (the

Reference Group). The ACCC continues to provide ongoing guidance to the Reference Group on the development and implementation of the Code. • In addition, the ACCC undertook a review of

submissions and verbal evidence provided to the Senate Inquiry for indicators of potential breaches of the TPA. Following this review, the ACCC pursued lines of inquiry, contacted submission authors and conducted meetings with art centre representatives in Central Australia and the Top End to identify potential breaches of the TPA. Investigative work continues into a number of these matters. • ASIC’s National Indigenous Graduate Program

has recruited four Indigenous graduates over the last three years and has also employed an Indigenous person as a Remote Area’s Campaign Officer. ASIC now has three Indigenous staff in Darwin, Sydney and Perth who conducted over 70 field visits in 2007-08. As a result they have identified and taken action in relation to unconscionable conduct, built positive working relationships with communities and promoted educational messages face to face. • ASIC, with the assistance of ICAN and Offices

of Fair Trading, identified a number of Indigenous consumers throughout Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory, that were experiencing financial hardship in repaying personal loans provided through the Commonwealth Bank and the National Australia Bank arranged by finance brokers. Outcomes were achieved which resulted in the lenders reviewing remote lending practices and reviewing the liability of borrowers under loans where they could not readily afford the repayments. A resolution was also achieved with one of the finance brokers involved - see ASIC Media Releases 06-10, 08-06 and 08-11. • ASIC, together with its Indigenous staff,

have developed Money Talks a series of radio segments featuring Indigenous Australian's of all ages talking about everyday financial matters in a casual and engaging way. The

radio segments were broadcast on over 150 local radio stations in 2007-08. In developing Money Talks, ASIC consulted with community members, those working with Indigenous communities and other government agencies.

27 August 2008

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