Turnbull gov't backs consumers with increased penalties for businesses that breach law

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Shoppers are reflected in the window of a retail store displaying a sale sign in central Sydney, Australia, October 10, 2016. Picture taken October 10, 2016. Reuters/David Gray

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs has put consumers at the centre, with higher penalties for breaches of consumer law and necessary action on paper bills, retirement villages and ticket scalping. Small Business Minister Michael McCormack has confirmed that increased protections for consumers were discussed in Melbourne last week.

“As Australia’s Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, I was delighted to join Consumer Affairs Ministers from the States, Territories and New Zealand to discuss increased protections for consumers against dodgy products and bad business behaviour,” McCormack said in a media release. He recognised that he and his colleagues must ensure that safety and protection of consumers are maintained.

For McCormack, it was clear from the recent meeting that everyone wants to work together to boost consistency and common sense in national consumer laws and regulations. One of the key points in the discussion, he said, was delivering on the Australian Government’s Budget 2017-18 commitments to boost consumer penalties under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The minister further states that the increased penalties will now serve as a severe deterrent for businesses that fail consumers by poor business practices or misleading behaviour. He added that endorsement by Consumer Affairs Ministers has been followed.

“These penalties will hold those companies accountable and impose a real financial cost- increasing the penalty to $10 million or three times the value of the benefit the company received or if this cannot be determined then 10 percent of its annual turnover in the preceding 12 months, whichever is the greater,” McCormack explained. Individual fines are up to $500,000.

According to McCormack, the move shows that the Turnbull government supports consumers and all hard-working Aussies. McCormack added paper billing, retirement villages and ticket scalping to the CAF agenda several months ago, as he maintained that Aussies must have access to all available tickets and to purchase those tickets at a reasonable price. It means no mark-ups from scalpers and resellers.

Moreover, McCormack revealed that the Commonwealth Treasury will carry out a regulatory assessment with options to tackle the issue of ticket on-selling. This also includes a potential prohibition on on-selling as well as options to perk up transparency in the secondary ticket selling market.

As for paper billing, those who do not have access to technology to receive digital bills must not be penalised and be required to pay exorbitant fees. These include the elderly and disadvantaged.

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