Consumer Compliance And Enforcement

17 Jun 2009 questionsarchive

I seek leave to ask the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs a question about consumer compliance and enforcement.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Honourable members may recall that I asked a question about a Choice report in April this year, in which it was stated that the Australian Consumers Association had conducted a survey and placed the South Australian OCBA in its lowest rankings. The article states:
Experts regarded the quality of available enforcement options to be less than adequate. They made little comment and observed that the flexibility of these options was 'fairly standard' and the scope was 'basic'. They also rated the available remedies as less than adequate, and observed that they 'do not allow for innovation'.

It also refers to inadequate policy in relation to consumer risk, and states:

Although...OCBA has a Strategic Plan, it does not specifically target its enforcement resources to particular areas of consumer risk...There is no evidence of a review process in the Strategic Plan.

The minister in her reply stated that OCBA has undertaken a review and believes that these issues have been addressed. In the recent budget I note that, under sub-program 12.3, 'Compliance and Enforcement', the targets of performance indicators for 2009-10 are lower than they were for 2007-08 in that, under 'Performance Indicators', the number of alleged prima facie breaches investigated, warning letters issued, assurances taken and disciplines and prosecution briefs prepared are in every instance lower than they were two years ago. So my question to the minister is: on what basis does she say that these reviews have taken place and that enforcement has become a high priority for this government?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:30): I would have thought that this would be left as an estimates question. Nevertheless, I am more than happy to answer it.

Indeed, in December 2008 Choice released its final report on its assessment of the fair trading agencies and, indeed, our South Australian Office of Consumer and Business Affairs was considered to have a rating below standard. As I have placed on record already, at the time the Choice review was being conducted, the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs was, in fact, undertaking a significant structural review of its office, roles and functions around many of the areas identified in that report, and some changes have occurred and many are under way.

I also reported in this place that a new Director, Compliance and Enforcement has been appointed recently in the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs. That officer is reviewing compliance and enforcement activities and a number of other processes within the office and, clearly, is giving regard and consideration to the recommendations in the Choice report.

Also, in November last year, I introduced the Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Fair Trading) Bill into the Legislative Council, and this bill offers substantial changes to penalties, and also increased powers to authorised officers. So, as members can see, a number of things have been put in place and are continuing to be put in place to address those issues identified in the Choice report.

In relation to the number of investigations, I would need to check my dates, but I know that one year a large number of investigations was conducted under a particular initiative, and I am happy to check that and bring those details here. Obviously, those numbers vary from year to year. The monitoring program that the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs has in place is very rigorous, and we see evidence of that regularly.
For instance, each year we check show bags and each year we monitor children's Christmas toy sales. Just yesterday in this place, in answer to a question—and, obviously, members were again not interested and did not listen—I clearly outlined an initiative that the office was conducting on Eyre Peninsula, including Port Lincoln, around measurements, and officers are checking that scales and other measurements at shop counters and petrol pumps are also included. I know you would be interested in that, Mr President. A range of other measures is being monitored by the Office of Consumer and Business Affairs.

Only a matter of months ago, also in response to a question in this place, I announced that we were checking that the midyear sales offers were, in fact, genuine. I released media reports about that and made the public aware that officers were out checking to ensure that these midyear sales were genuine.

So, off the top of my head, I can list a number of initiatives that I have talked about in this place within just a matter of a few weeks. As I said, in terms of overall figures, they would be expected to vary from year to year.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

In reply to the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17 June 2009).

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy): I am advised:

1. During 2007-08 there was a spike in the number of investigations completed, specifically linked to security agent licensees who did not meet the licensing entitlement criteria. This was a one off event that occurred as a result of background checks being conducted by SAPOL of over 7,000 licensed security agents.