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Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018

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2016-2017-2018

 

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

 

 

 

SENATE

 

 

 

Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018

 

 

 

REVISED EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

 

 

 

(Circulated by authority of the

Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, the Hon Michael Sukkar MP)





 

  THIS MEMORANDUM TAKES ACCOUNT OF AMENDMENTS MADE BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES TO THE BILL AS INTRODUCED

 



Table of contents

Glossary............................................................................................................. 1

General outline and financial impact........................................................... 3

Chapter 1 ........... Australian Consumer Law Review.................................. 5

Chapter 2 ........... Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights.......... 19

 

 



The following abbreviations and acronyms are used throughout this explanatory memorandum.

Abbreviation

Definition

ACCC

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

ACL

Australian Consumer Law; Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010

ACL Review

Australian Consumer Law Review

ASIC

Australian Securities and Investments Commission

ASIC Act

Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001

Bill

Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018

CCA

Competition and Consumer Act 2010

 

 



Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018

This Bill amends the ASIC Act, ACL and CCA to give effect to a number of proposals suggested in the Australian Consumer Law Review - Final Report (ACL Review Final Report).

The amendments clarify and strengthen consumer protections relating to consumer guarantees, unsolicited consumer agreements, product safety, false billing, unconscionable conduct, pricing and unfair contract terms.

Date of effect : The day after this Bill receives the Royal Assent.

Proposal announced : The measures were included in the ACL Review Final Report which was released in April 2017. The measures were approved by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs on 31 August 2017.

Financial impact: Nil

Human rights implications: This Bill does not raise any human rights issues. See Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights - Chapter 2, paragraphs 2.1 to 2.69.

 

 



Chapter 1          

Australian Consumer Law Review

Outline of chapter

1.1                   This Bill amends the ASIC Act, ACL and CCA to give effect to a number of proposals suggested in the Australian Consumer Law Review - Final Report (ACL Review Final Report).

1.2                   The amendments clarify and strengthen consumer protections relating to consumer guarantees, unsolicited consumer agreements, product safety, false billing, unconscionable conduct, pricing and unfair contract terms.

Context of amendments

1.3                   On 12 June 2015, Commonwealth, State and Territory Consumer Affairs Ministers, through the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs, asked Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand to initiate a broad-reaching review of the ACL, the ‘ACL Review’.

1.4                   The intent of the ACL Review was to assess the effectiveness of the ACL provisions, including the ACL’s flexibility to respond to new and emerging issues and the extent to which the national consumer policy framework had met the objectives set by the Council of Australian Governments. The Review was also tasked with considering the application of the ACL provisions that are mirrored in the ASIC Act.

1.5                   The ACL Review Final Report was released in April 2017, following significant public consultation.

1.6                   On 31 August 2017, the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs agreed to legislate the proposals reflected in this Bill. 

1.7                   The amendments strengthen and clarify the consumer protection regime to ensure that consumers are well-informed, assist consumers and traders to better understand their rights and obligations, and future-proof the regime.

Summary of new law

1.8                   This Bill amends the ASIC Act, ACL and CCA to give effect to a number of proposals recommended in the ACL Review Final Report.

1.9                   The amendments:

•        ease the evidentiary requirements so that a party bringing proceedings may rely on both admissions of fact and findings of fact made in other proceedings (see paragraphs 1.10 to 1.19);

•        extend the unconscionable conduct protections to publicly listed companies (see paragraphs 1.20 to 1.25);

•        ensure that the unsolicited services provisions operate as intended by including services that were not actually supplied (see paragraphs 1.26 to 1.31);

•        clarify that an unsolicited consumer agreement may be entered into in a public place (see paragraphs 1.32 to 1.35);

•        enhance price transparency by requiring that additional fees or charges associated with pre-selected options are included in the headline price (see paragraphs 1.36 to 1.41);

•        strengthen the Minister’s and regulator’s powers to obtain information about product safety (see paragraphs 1.42 to 1.48);

•        enable regulators to use investigative powers to better assess whether or not contract terms are unfair (see paragraphs 1.49 to 1.52);

•        give courts the power to require a person in contravention of the ACL to engage a third party to give effect to a community service order (see paragraphs 1.53 to 1.56);

•        clarify the scope of consumer guarantees where goods are transported or stored (see paragraphs 1.57 to 1.62);

•        ensure that the terminology used in the consumer protection provisions in the ASIC Act relating to land are consistent with similar provisions in the ACL (see paragraphs 1.63 to 1.69); and

•        clarify that the ACL-related consumer protections that apply to financial services also apply to financial products under the ASIC Act (see paragraphs 1.70 to 1.75).  

 

Comparison of key features of new law and current law

New law

Current law

Evidentiary burden

Expanded ‘follow-on’ provisions allow private litigants to rely on admitted facts from earlier proceedings.

Findings of fact made by a court in certain proceedings against a person may be used in certain other proceedings against that person under the Act. Admitted or agreed facts by the person may not be relied on.

Unconscionable conduct

Unconscionable conduct against a person is prohibited, including where the person is a publicly listed company.

Unconscionable conduct against a person is prohibited except where the person is a publicly listed company.

Unsolicited consumer agreements

The operation of unsolicited consumer agreements in section 69 is clarified but not altered to make clear that an unsolicited consumer agreement applies where a dealer meets a consumer away from the supplier’s business or trade premises, including a public place.

Section 69 of the ACL defines unsolicited consumer agreements.

Amounts included in the single price

Fees or charges associated with pre-selected options must be included in the single price.

The single price for the supply of a good or service must include charges payable by a person except a charge that is optional. 

Product Safety

The ACCC is able to require information about unsafe products, including from third parties.

The ACCC can only require a supplier to provide information about unsafe products.

Unfair contract terms

ACCC and ASIC’s investigative powers allow for investigations of possible unfair contract terms.

ACCC and ASIC’s investigative powers do not allow for investigations of possible unfair contract terms.

 

New law

Current law

Penalties and remedies

The remedies available to a court are expanded to give the court the power to require the person in contravention of the ACL to engage a third party to perform the required community service.

Section 246 sets out the remedies available to a court where a person contravenes the ACL but does not specifically allow a court to direct a person to engage a third party to perform a required community service.

Consumer guarantees

The exemption from the requirement to provide a consumer guarantee for the transport or storage of goods is clarified so that it only applies where both the consignor and consignee are a business. The exemption does not apply where the consignee is a consumer.

ACL includes an exemption from the requirement to provide a consumer guarantee for the transport or storage of goods in certain circumstances .

Financial products

The ACL-related consumer protections in the ASIC Act are clarified to specifically apply to financial products as well as financial services.

The ACL-related consumer protections in the ASIC Act apply to financial services.

Technical amendments

The definition of unsolicited services is amended to also include services which were unrequested and not actually supplied.

Unsolicited services are defined as services which were supplied but not requested by a person.

Section 12DC of the ASIC Act is amended to refer to the ‘supply or possible supply’ of a financial product that includes an interest in land. The provision also applies to a financial product that may subsequently include an interest in land.

Section 12DC of the ASIC Act refers to representations in connection with ‘the sale or grant, or the possible sale or grant’ of a financial product that includes an interest in land.

Detailed explanation of new law

Easing the evidentiary burden for litigants (Proposal 17 of the ACL Review)

1.10               Consumers harmed by a contravention of the consumer law can seek relief by commencing a private action before the Federal Court.

1.11               Existing section 137H of the CCA is intended to facilitate actions by private litigants by enabling findings of fact made against a person in one proceeding, typically brought by the ACCC, to be used as prima facie evidence against the person in another proceeding.

1.12               This mechanism helps to reduce the cost of private actions, as a person relying on a previous finding of fact as prima facie evidence does not need to establish that fact.

1.13               However, admissions of fact by a respondent cannot easily be relied on by a litigant in a subsequent action. The consequence of this is that essential issues that were relied upon by a court in finding a contravention in an earlier proceeding are not prima facie evidence of those matters in a subsequent action.

1.14               Typically, regulators will undertake enforcement action in the broader public interest and prioritise remedies which reflect this objective and deter future breaches of the law. However, private litigants pursuing their own remedies for a similar contravention must re-establish admissions made in an earlier proceeding because a ‘follow on’ provision, which allows these admissions to be prima facie evidence, does not exist.

1.15               Schedule 1 to the Bill amends section 137H to extend the ‘follow-on’ provisions in the consumer law context to enable private litigants and regulators to rely on admissions made by the respondent as well as facts established in earlier proceedings as evidence in their own case. Agreed facts from earlier proceedings will remain available to litigants. [Schedule 1, items 1 to 3, section 137H of CCA]

1.16               “Follow-on” provisions remove barriers for consumers seeking to use legal remedies by effectively placing the evidentiary burden on the defendant.

1.17               These provisions are consistent with recent changes to competition provisions in the CCA as recommended by the Harper Review.

1.18               Evidentiary certificates will be issued by a responsible officer who is independent from the prosecution.

1.19               The amendments apply in relation to findings of fact and admissions of fact made on or after the commencement of the Bill. [Schedule 1, item 4]

Extending unconscionable conduct protections to publicly-listed companies (Proposal 9 in the ACL Review)

1.20               Existing section 12CB of the ASIC Act currently prohibits unconscionable conduct by a person in trade or commerce in connection with the supply or possible supply of financial services to a person, or acquisition or possible acquisition of financial services from a person.

1.21               Similarly, section 21 of the ACL prohibits unconscionable conduct by a person in trade or commerce in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services to a person, or acquisition or possible acquisition of goods or services from a person.

1.22               However, the unconscionable conduct provisions do not currently extend the statutory protections to publicly-listed companies.

1.23               Schedule 2 to the Bill amends section 12CB of the ASIC Act, section 131 of the CCA and section 21 of the ACL to extend statutory unconscionable conduct protections to publicly-listed companies. [Schedule 2, items 1, 3 and 5, paragraphs 12CB(1)(a) and 12CB(1)(b) of the ASIC Act, subparagraphs 131(2)(a)(i) and 131(2)(a)(ii) of the CCA and paragraphs 21(1)(a) and 21(1)(b) of the ACL]

1.24               As a result, the definition of ‘listed public company’ is no longer required and is repealed from the ASIC Act and ACL. [Schedule 2, items 2 and 4, subsection 12CB(5) of the ASIC Act and subsection 2(1) of the ACL]

1.25               The amendments apply to acts or omissions that occur on or after the Bill commences. [Schedule 2, item 6; Schedule 12, items 1 and 2, section 315 of the ASIC Act and section 296 of the ACL]

Clarifying the definition of ‘unsolicited services’ (Technical Amendment A in the ACL Review)

1.26               Currently, subsection 40(2) of the ACL prohibits a person in trade or commerce asserting a right to payment for unsolicited services unless the person has reasonable cause to believe there is a right to the payment.

1.27               Subsection 40(3) of the ACL and associated regulations also currently prohibit a person in trade or commerce from sending an invoice that:

•        states the amount of a payment, or sets out the charge, for supplying unsolicited services; and

•        does not contain a warning statement ‘This is not a bill. You are not required to pay any money’.

unless the person has reasonable cause to believe that there is a right to the payment or charge.

1.28               The existing definition of unsolicited services at subsection 2(1) of the ACL is limited to services actually supplied to a person without the person requesting the services.

1.29               Schedule 3 to the Bill amends the definition of ‘unsolicited services’ so it also includes unrequested services which are purported to have been supplied but have not actually been supplied. [Schedule 3, item 1, subsection 2(1) of the ACL]

Example 1.1 

LIMPEZ Pty Ltd sends a letter which looks like an invoice to Jason for a remote virus scan of his computer that it claims to have performed Jason did not ask for the services to be supplied. Furthermore, LIMPEZ Pty Ltd did not actually scan Jason’s computer for viruses.

The services LIMPEZ Pty Ltd is asserting to have supplied meets the definition of unsolicited services.

LIMPEZ Pty Ltd has contravened the false billing prohibition and may be subject to a pecuniary penalty, as well as civil proceedings for damages, other remedial orders or an injunction.

1.30               This allows for better enforcement and operation of the false billing provisions under sections 40, 42 and 162 of the ACL. [Schedule 3, items 2 to 5, paragraph 40(3)(a), section 42, paragraphs 42(b) and 162(3)(a) of the ACL]

1.31               The revised definition of ‘unsolicited services’ applies to acts or omissions that occur on or after the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 2, section 297 of the ACL]

Clarifying the operation of unsolicited consumer agreements in public places (Proposal 12 in the ACL Review)

1.32               Schedule 4 to the Bill amends the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions at section 69 of the ACL to clarify when an agreement is covered by that section.

1.33               Currently, subparagraph 69(1)(b)(i) provides that an agreement which is the result of negotiations between a consumer and dealer at a place other than the supplier’s place of business would be an unsolicited consumer agreement. Certain other conditions need to be met including that the consumer did not invite the dealer to come to that place.

1.34               Schedule 4 to the Bill clarifies that such a place could be a public place, even though a consumer’s invitation is not required for the dealer to enter a public place. [Schedule 4, item 1, subsection 69(1) of the ACL]

Example 1.2 

Anna takes her newborn baby for a walk around the local lake. Ruth operates a small business supplying photographic services and she frequently goes to public walking areas to look for prospective clients.

Ruth approaches Anna to tell her about her photography business and Anna agrees to purchase $800 worth of baby photos.

Although the lake is a public place and Ruth does not need an invitation to enter, the agreement is an unsolicited consumer agreement.

1.35               The amendments apply in relation to acts or omissions that relate to agreements entered into on or after the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 2, section 298 of the ACL]

Ensuring all pre-selected options are included in the single price (Proposal 13 in the ACL Review)

1.36               Currently, paragraph 48(7)(a) of the ACL provides that a charge of any description payable to a person making a representation (the ‘seller’) by another person (the ‘customer’) is included in the single price or ‘headline price’. However, there is an exception for optional charges. That is, an optional charge does not need to be included in the headline price.

1.37               This has meant that the headline price for a good or service has not always represented the total price of the good or service where the person offering the good or service has pre-selected options. This has been a particular issue for online sales.

1.38               If a consumer does not specifically de-select the pre-selected options they will be charged a higher price than the single price. It can be difficult for some consumers to identify all the pre-selected options in a transaction. Under the current definition, as the pre-selected charges are optional, the pre-selected charges do not need to be included in the headline price.

Example 1.3 

Alex is looking for an airline ticket.

He finds a ticket advertised by Viagem Airlines for $500. However, Viagem Airlines pre-selects an option for carbon offsetting, priced at $5.

As soon as Alex clicks through to the Viagem Airlines website the ticket that he thought was $500 becomes $505.

1.39               Schedule 5 to the Bill amends the provisions relating to a single price so that the headline price must include charges automatically applied by the seller, even though, during the transaction, the customer may deselect these options. [Schedule 5, items 1 and 2, paragraph 48(7)(a) and subsection 48(7) of the ACL]

1.40               The seller must include in the headline price a charge payable by the customer unless, before the seller made the representation, the customer had deselected the charge, or not asked that the charge be applied.

Example 1.4 

The amendments included in this Bill have now taken effect.

Alex is looking to purchase an airline ticket.

He again finds a ticket with Viagem Airlines. The ticket is priced at $505. This includes a carbon offset of $5 which has been pre-selected by the airline.

He clicks through to the Viagem Airlines’ website. This time the price remains $505 as the price for the carbon offset is included in the advertised price.

When buying the ticket, Alex de-selects the carbon offset. The price is reduced to $500, which is the amount Alex pays for his ticket. 

Example 1.5 

Alex finds a ticket with Taube Airlines, a discount airline. It offers a number of options for its customers to select when purchasing a ticket, including additional baggage, inflight movies and meals.

None of these options are pre-selected.

Taube Airlines does not need to include the prices for these options in the headline price as the options are not pre-selected. If Alex selects the additional services and options, the cost would be added to the overall charge for the airline ticket.

1.41               The amendments apply in relation to acts or omissions which occur on or after the day that is 12 months after commencement. This provides sellers with time to alter their systems. [Schedule 12, item 2, section 299 of the ACL]

Strengthening the ACCC’s powers to obtain information (Proposal 8 in the ACL Review)

1.42               Existing section 133D of the CCA gives the Commonwealth Minister or an ACCC appointed inspector the power to issue disclosure notices to obtain information about the safety of goods or services. However, disclosure notices can only be issued to a supplier who, in trade or commerce, supplies consumer goods or product related services.

1.43               This restriction has prevented disclosure notices being issued to other parties who may possess relevant information, documents or evidence about the safety of goods and services. These other parties could include:

•        other traders;

•        test laboratories;

•        safety consultants;

•        consumers who have purchased or been injured by a hazardous product; or

•        a person injured by a hazardous product.

1.44               It is not always possible or appropriate for the ACCC to obtain this information from other parties voluntarily, particularly where they may be subject to legal or confidential restrictions.

1.45               Schedule 6 to the Bill broadens the Minister and an inspector’s powers to allow the Minister or inspector to give a disclosure notice to a third party. [Schedule 6, items 1 to 3, section 133D of the CCA]

1.46               The Minister or inspector may give a notice if he or she has reason to believe that the person is capable of giving information, producing documents or giving evidence in relation to the safety of those consumer goods or product related services.

1.47               Existing subsection 133E(1) operates to provide that a person cannot refuse to provide the necessary information or documents on the basis that doing so would result in self-incrimination. However, existing subsection 133E(2) will operate to provide that the information or documents cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings except to the extent that the proceedings relate to compliance with a disclosure notice or the provision of false or misleading information in response to a disclosure notice as provided for in subsection 133F and 133G.  

1.48               The amendments apply in relation to disclosure notices given on or after the commencement of the Bill. [Schedule 6, item 4]

Enabling regulators to use investigative powers to assess unfair contract terms (Proposal 11 in the ACL Review)

1.49               Currently, the ACCC and ASIC are restricted in their ability to investigate compliance and take enforcement action with respect to unfair contract terms. This is because their investigative powers are triggered by ‘contraventions’ or ‘possible contraventions’ of the law.

1.50               As the use of unfair contract terms is not prohibited by the law it is not possible to breach or contravene these provisions in the law.

1.51               Schedule 7 to the Bill amends section 13 of the ASIC Act and 155 of the CCA to extend ASIC and the ACCC’s respective investigative powers to enable those regulators to undertake investigations to determine if a term in a contract may be unfair. [Schedule 7, items 1 and 2, subsections 13(7) and 13(8) of the ASIC Act and paragraph 155(2)(b) of the CCA]

1.52               The amendments apply in relation to contracts entered into on or after the Bill commences. [Schedule 7, item 3; Schedule 12, item 1, section 316 of the ASIC Act]

Requiring third parties to give effect to a community service order (Proposal 19 in the ACL Review)

1.53               Existing paragraph 246(2)(a) of the ACL allows regulators to apply to the court for a community service order as a remedy where a person has contravened, or has been involved in a contravention of, the ACL.

1.54               Schedule 8 to this Bill amends section 246 to clarify that a court may issue a community service order requiring the person to engage a third party, at the person’s expense, to perform the service required in the order. [Schedule 8, items 1 and 2, paragraphs 246(2)(a) and subsection 246(2) of the ACL]

1.55               A court may consider using this remedy when the person in breach is not qualified or trusted to give effect to an order. For example, a court may consider that it is not appropriate for a person who has caused financial harm to low-income or vulnerable people to provide financial counselling to those people.

1.56               The amendments apply to orders relating to acts or omissions which occur on or after the day the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 2, section 300 of the ACL]

Clarifying the scope of the exemption from the consumer guarantees for the transport or storage of goods (Proposal 5 in the ACL Review)

1.57               Part 3-2, Division 1 of the ACL contains the consumer guarantees regime. The regime sets out a number of statutory guarantees that apply to all consumer transactions. Subdivision A relates to the supply of goods, while Subdivision B relates to the supply of services.

1.58               In relation to the supply of services, the consumer guarantees include a requirement that services must be provided with due care and skill (section 60), fit for a particular purpose (section 61) and supplied within a reasonable amount of time (section 62).

1.59               Section 63 of the ACL outlines services to which the guarantees regime does not apply (exemptions).

1.60               Paragraph 63(a) currently provides that the consumer guarantees do not apply to services that are supplied under ‘a contract for or in relation to the transportation and storage of goods for the purpose of a business, trade, profession or occupation carried on or engaged in by the person for whom the goods are transported’.

1.61               Schedule 9 to the Bill clarifies that this exemption only applies to the extent that the goods being transported relate to a consignee’s business. It does not apply where the goods being transported are for the consignee’s personal use. [Schedule 9, items 1 and 2, section 63 of the ACL]

Example 1.6 

Nik is an artist who works from home.

Nik purchases a set of paint brushes which he will use to paint art for sale. Nik also purchases a tracksuit to wear when exercising. Nik pays to have both items delivered to his home.

As Nik purchased the paint brushes to use in his occupation as an artist he will not be able to rely on the consumer guarantees if the paintbrushes are damaged in transit and he wishes to pursue a complaint against the courier.

However, as Nik purchased the tracksuit for personal use he will be able to rely on the consumer protections if the tracksuit is damaged in transit and he pursues a complaint against the courier.

1.62               The amendments apply to services which are supplied under a contract entered into on or after the day the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 2, section 301 of the ACL]

Correcting inconsistent terminology in the ASIC Act for financial products that involve interests in land (Technical Amendment B in the ACL Review)

1.63               Part 2, Division 2, Subdivision D of the ASIC Act sets out consumer protections for financial services and mirrors a number of provisions in the ACL including by importing the language used in the ACL.

1.64               Schedule 10 of the Bill amends section 12DC of the ASIC Act to replace references to ‘the sale or grant’ or the ‘possible sale or grant’ of a financial product that consists of, or includes, an interest in land with the ‘supply or possible supply’ of a financial product that consists of, or includes, an interest in land. [Schedule 10, items 1 and 3, subsection 12DC(1) and paragraph 12DC(2A)(b) of the ASIC Act]

1.65               The amendments are not intended to alter or amend the current operation of that provision.

1.66               Schedule 10 of the Bill also amends the ASIC Act to clarify that the consumer protections that apply in connection to a financial product that consists of, or includes an interest in land also apply where the representation occurred prior to the acquisition of the land. [Schedule 10, items 2 and 4, subsections 12DC(1) and 12DC(2A)]

1.67               For example, the consumer protections apply to the promotion of a registered or unregistered managed investment scheme that will invest in property, or where a person recommends an investment in real property using a self-managed super fund structure where no fund is yet established.

1.68               There are other provisions in Part 2, Division 2, Subdivision D of the ASIC Act which are not amended by this Bill and which also refer to ‘the sale or grant’ or the ‘possible sale or grant’ of a financial product that consists of, or includes, an interest in land. These provisions were not considered as part of the ACL Review. It is not intended that these provisions operate differently to the amended provision.

1.69               The amendments apply to acts or omissions which occur on or after the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 1, section 317 of the ASIC Act]

Clarifying that the consumer protections in the ASIC Act that apply to financial services also apply to financial products (Proposal 16 in the ACL Review)

1.70               Certain provisions in the ASIC Act are intended to mirror certain provisions in the ACL, including the protections against unconscionable conduct, misleading or deceptive conduct, and harassment and coercion.

1.71               However, the existing provisions in the ASIC Act do not refer to financial products as the definition of financial services is intended to have a broad definition, which includes financial products. 

1.72               Schedule 11 of the Bill amends the ASIC Act to clarify that the consumer protections that already apply to financial services also apply to financial products.

1.73               This is done by amending the definition of financial to include a financial product. [Schedule 11, item 2, subsection 12BAB(1) of the ASIC Act]

1.74               The terms ‘unsolicited financial products’ and ‘financial products’ are removed from certain provisions where the provision also refers to financial services. This is because the amended definition of financial services now specifically includes a financial product. [Schedule 11, items 1 and 3 to 9, subsection 12BA(1), subparagraph 12BEA(1)(e)(iii), subsection 12DM(1), paragraph 12DM(1AA)(a), section 12DMA, subsection 12DMB(1), paragraph 12DMB(2)(a) and subsection 12DMB(4) of the ASIC Act]

1.75               The amendments apply in relation to acts or omissions which occur on or after the day that the Bill commences. [Schedule 12, item 1, section 318 of the ASIC Act]



Chapter 2          

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights

Prepared in accordance with Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011

Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018

2.1                   This Bill is compatible with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 .

Overview

2.2                   This Bill amends the ASIC Act, ACL and CCA to give effect to a number of proposals suggested in the Australian Consumer Law Review - Final Report (ACL Review Final Report).

2.3                   The amendments clarify and strengthen consumer protections relating to consumer guarantees, unsolicited consumer agreements, product safety, false billing, unconscionable conduct, pricing and unfair contract terms.

2.4                   On 12 June 2015, Commonwealth, State and Territory Consumer Affairs Ministers, through the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs, asked Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand to initiate a broad-reaching review of the ACL, the ‘ACL Review’.

2.5                   The intent of the ACL Review was to assess the effectiveness of the ACL provisions, including the ACL’s flexibility to respond to new and emerging issues and the extent to which the national consumer policy framework had met the objectives set by the Council of Australian Governments. The Review was also tasked with considering the application of the ACL provisions that are mirrored in the ASIC Act.

2.6                   The ACL Review Final Report was released in April 2017, following significant public consultation.

2.7                   On 31 August 2017, the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs agreed to legislate the proposals reflected in this Bill. 

2.8                   The amendments strengthen and clarify the consumer protection regime to ensure that consumers are well-informed, assist consumers and traders to better understand their rights and obligations, and future-proof the regime.

Schedule 1 - Admissions of fact

Overview

2.9                   Typically, regulators will undertake enforcement action in the broader public interest and prioritise remedies which reflect this objective and deter future breaches of the law.

2.10               Consumers harmed by a contravention of the consumer law can seek relief by commencing a private action before the Federal Court. However, private litigants pursuing their own remedies for a similar contravention must re-establish admissions made in an earlier proceeding because a ‘follow on’ provision, which allows these admissions to be prima facie evidence, does not exist.

2.11               The consequence of this is that essential issues that were relied upon by a court in finding a contravention in an earlier proceeding are not prima facie evidence of those matters in a subsequent action.

2.12               Schedule 1 to this Bill amends section 137H to extend the ‘follow-on’ provisions in the consumer law context to enable private litigants and regulators to rely on admissions made by the respondent as well as facts established in earlier proceedings as evidence in their own case. Agreed facts from earlier proceedings will remain available to litigants.

Human rights implications

2.13               This Schedule engages the right to a fair trial and fair hearing, specifically, the rules of evidence in courts or tribunals.

2.14               The rules of evidence in courts are affected by the amendment as it will alter the existing approach applicable to prima facie evidence in subsequent proceedings.

Conclusion

2.15               Engaging the right to a fair trial and fair hearing, specifically, the rules of evidence in courts or tribunals in this way is necessary and justified.

2.16               ‘Follow-on’ provisions remove barriers for consumers seeking to use legal remedies by effectively placing the burden to rebut the prima facie evidence on the defendant.

Schedule 2 - Listed public companies

Overview

2.17               Schedule 2 to the Bill amends the ASIC Act and the ACL to extend statutory unconscionable conduct protections to publicly-listed companies. As a result, the definition of ‘listed public company’ is no longer required and is repealed from the ASIC Act and ACL.

2.18               While the unconscionable conduct provisions do not currently extend the statutory protections to publicly-listed companies, this amendment does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.  

Human rights implications

2.19               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.20               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 3 - Unsolicited supplies

Overview

2.21               Schedule 3 to the Bill amends the definition of ‘unsolicited services’ so it also includes unrequested services which are purported to have been supplied but have not actually been supplied.

2.22               Currently, subsection 40(2) of the ACL prohibits a person in trade or commerce asserting a right to payment for unsolicited services unless the person has reasonable cause to believe there is a right to the payment.

2.23               The existing definition of unsolicited services at subsection 2(1) of the ACL is limited to services actually supplied to a person without the person requesting the services.

Human rights implications

2.24               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.25               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

 

Schedule 4 - Unsolicited consumer agreements

Overview

2.26               Schedule 4 to the Bill amends the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions at section 69 of the ACL to clarify when an agreement is covered by that section.

2.27               Currently, subparagraph 69(1)(b)(i) provides that an agreement which is the result of negotiations between a consumer and dealer at a place other than the supplier’s place of business would be an unsolicited consumer agreement. Certain other conditions need to be met including that the consumer did not invite the dealer to come to that place.

2.28               Schedule 4 to the Bill clarifies that such a place could be a public place, even though a consumer’s invitation is not required for the dealer to enter a public place.

Human rights implications

2.29                This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.30               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 5 - Pricing

Overview

2.31               The headline price for a good or service has not always represented the total price of the good or service where the person offering the good or service (the ‘seller’) has pre-selected ‘options’. This has been a particular issue for online sales.

2.32               If a consumer does not specifically de-select the pre-selected options they will be paying a higher price than the single price which is the price that was advertised. It can be difficult for some consumers to identify all the pre-selected options in a transaction. As the pre-selected charges are ‘optional’, the pre-selected charges do not need to be included in the headline price.

2.33               Schedule 5 to the Bill amends the provisions relating to a single price so that the headline price must include charges automatically applied by the seller, even though during the transaction the consumer may deselect these options.

Human rights implications

2.34               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.35               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

 

Schedule 6 - Disclosure notices relating to the safety of goods or services

Overview

2.36               The Commonwealth Minister or an ACCC appointed inspector has the power to issue disclosure notices to obtain information about the safety of goods or services, limited to a supplier who, in trade or commerce, supplies consumer goods or product related services.

2.37               This restriction has prevented disclosure notices being issued to other parties who may possess relevant information, documents or evidence, about the safety of goods and services. These other parties could include:

•        other traders;

•        test laboratories;

•        safety consultants;

•        consumers who have purchased or been injured by a hazardous product; or

•        a person injured by a hazardous product.

2.38               Schedule 6 to the Bill broadens the powers to allow the Minister or inspector to give a disclosure notice to a third party.

2.39               The Minister or inspector may give a notice if he or she has reason to believe that the person is capable of giving information, producing documents or giving evidence in relation to the safety of those consumer goods or product related services.

Human rights implications

2.40               This Schedule engages the right against self-incrimination under article 14(3)(g) of the ICCPR because subsection 133E(1) would operate to provide that a person cannot refuse to provide the information or documents requested in a disclosure notice on the basis that doing so would result in self-incrimination.

2.41               However, existing subsection 133E(2) will operate to provide that the information or documents cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings except to the extent that the proceedings relate to compliance with a disclosure notice or the provision of false or misleading information in response to a disclosure notice as provided for in subsection 133F and 133G.  

Conclusion

2.42               Engaging the right against self-incrimination in this way is necessary and justified as the public benefit in removing the liberty outweighs the loss to the individual. It is not always possible or appropriate for the ACCC to obtain this information from other parties voluntarily, particularly where they may be subject to legal or confidential restrictions. Being able to obtain this information in a timely manner enables the regulator to complete safely investigations earlier and ensure consumers are alerted sooner.

Schedule 7 - Power to obtain information, documents and evidence

Overview

2.43               Currently, the ACCC and ASIC are restricted in their ability to investigate compliance and take enforcement action with respect to unfair contract terms. This is because their investigative powers are triggered by ‘contraventions’ or ‘possible contraventions’ of the law.

2.44               As the use of unfair contract terms is not prohibited by the law it is not possible to breach or contravene these provisions in the law.

2.45               Schedule 7 to the Bill extend ASIC and the ACCC’s respective investigative powers to enable those regulators to undertake investigations to determine if a term in a contract may be unfair.

Human rights implications

2.46               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

 Conclusion

2.47               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 8 - Non-punitive orders

Overview

2.48               Regulators can already apply to the court for a community service order as a remedy where a person has contravened, or has been involved in a contravention of, the ACL.

2.49               Schedule 8 to this Bill amends section 246 to clarify that a court may issue a community service order requiring the person to engage a third party, at the person’s expense, to perform the service required in the order.

2.50               A court may consider using this remedy when the person in breach is not qualified or trusted to give effect to an order. For example, a court may consider that it is not appropriate for a person who has caused financial harm to low-income or vulnerable people to provide financial counselling to those people.

Human rights implications

2.51                This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.52               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 9 - Guarantees relating to the supply of services

Overview

2.53               The consumer guarantees regime sets out a number of statutory guarantees that apply to all consumer transactions.

2.54               Section 63 of the ACL outlines services to which the guarantees regime does not apply (exemptions). Paragraph 63(a) currently provides that the consumer guarantees do not apply to services that are supplied under ‘a contract for or in relation to the transportation and storage of goods for the purpose of a business, trade, profession or occupation carried on or engaged in by the person for whom the goods are transported’.

2.55               Schedule 9 to the Bill clarifies that this exemption only applies to the extent that the goods being transported relate to a consignee’s business. It does not apply where the goods being transported are for the consignee’s personal use.

Human rights implications

2.56               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.57               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 10 - Consumer protection

Overview

2.58               A number of provisions in the ACL setting out consumer protections for financial services are mirrored in the ASIC Act.

2.59               Schedule 10 of the Bill amends section 12DC of the ASIC Act to replace references to ‘the sale or grant’ or the ‘possible sale or grant’ of a financial product that consists of, or includes, an interest in land with the ‘supply or possible supply’ of a financial product that consists of, or includes, an interest in land.

2.60               The amendments are not intended to alter or amend the current operation of that provision.

2.61               Schedule 10 of the Bill also amends the ASIC Act to clarify that the consumer protections that apply in connection to a financial product that consists of, or includes an interest in land also apply where the representation occurred prior to the acquisition of the land.

2.62               For example, the consumer protections apply to the promotion of a registered or unregistered managed investment scheme that will invest in property, or where a person recommends an investment in real property using a self-managed super fund structure where no fund is yet established.

Human rights implications

2.63               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

Conclusion

2.64               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.

Schedule 11 - Consumer protections in relation to financial products

Overview

2.65               Certain provisions in the ASIC Act are intended to mirror certain provisions in the ACL, including the protections against unconscionable conduct, misleading or deceptive conduct, and harassment and coercion.

2.66               However, the existing provisions in the ASIC Act do not refer to financial products as the definition of financial services is intended to have a broad definition, which includes financial products. 

2.67               Schedule 11 of the Bill amends the ASIC Act to clarify that the consumer protections that already apply to financial services also apply to financial products.

Human rights implications

2.68               This Schedule does not engage any of the applicable rights or freedoms.

 Conclusion

2.69               This Schedule is compatible with human rights as it does not raise any human rights issues.