On 1 January 2011, a single, national consumer protection and fair trading law will commence across Australia. It will mean that businesses only have to comply with one fair trading law, regardless of where they are located in Australia.
The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) replaces the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act 1974 and large sections of Queensland’s Fair Trading Act 1989. The new Commonwealth Act will be called the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
The ACL is designed to:
- reduce costs to business, as they will only need to comply with one set of national laws
- enable the confident participation of consumers in markets in which both consumers and businesses trade fairly
- improve consumer wellbeing through consumer empowerment and protection
- foster competition.
It is essential that businesses and legal practitioners familiarise themselves with the new legislation to ensure compliance from 1 January 2011.
A series of guides are available, covering:
- consumer guarantees – an updated set of rights and remedies, similar to Queensland’s current refund and warranty laws
- sales practices – provisions relating to door-to-door trading, telemarketing, the unsolicited supply of goods and services, lay-by agreements and how goods and services are priced
- avoiding unfair business practices – advice on avoiding activities that constitute misleading or deceptive conduct and false or misleading representations
- product safety – a new national regime will commence as part of the ACL
- unfair contract terms – a court will be able to void unfair terms in standard form consumer contracts.
From 1 January 2011, you will be able to order hard copies of these resources from the Queensland Government bookshop.
What’s changing for Queensland businesses?
The provisions of the ACL are drawn from Australia’s existing fair trading laws, so most businesses will already be familiar with many parts of the ACL.
For Queensland businesses, there are a few significant changes:
- Lay-by agreements must now be in writing and clearly expressed in plain language. If a consumer terminates a lay-by agreement, the business may only charge a reasonable termination fee (one that covers its costs).
- A business cannot display a price that is only part of the total cost of an item, without also displaying the total cost as prominently as the part cost. For example, if a consumer must sign a two year contract to qualify for a particular deal, you must display the minimum cost over the two years of the contract, not just a monthly cost.
- The provisions for door-to-door sales have changed. A consumer is now entitled to a 10 business day cooling-off period. To assist businesses with the transition to these new rules, a business may comply with either the ACL or the pre-existing Queensland laws, up to 30 June 2011.
- A national regime for product safety will be introduced. Governments will have increased power to issue safety warning notices to the public, issue temporary or permanent bans on unsafe products and compel a business to recall an unsafe product. Anyone involved in the supply chain of a product who becomes aware that it has caused death or serious injury/illness must notify the ACCC.
A general introduction to the ACL, focusing on consumer guarantees and sales practices, was presented on 26 October. Click here to watch the video.
A product safety presentation, discussing mandatory reporting and recalls, was hosted on 12 November. Click here to watch the video.
A training module for businesses, focusing on consumer guarantees, has been produced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Watch or download the video here.
For more information, visit the Office of Fair Trading website or the Australian Consumer Law website. From 1 January 2011, the information on the Office of Fair Trading website will reflect the changes to marketplace rules that are introduced by the ACL.