Price Comparator Websites

16 Jul 2009 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about price comparator websites.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In May this year I asked the minister questions about aggregator insurance product websites, which, in some instances, have been found, when compared to the actual insurance company, to be wildly inaccurate in the order of 40 per cent or more. A study conducted in Britain in December last year found that over 75 per cent of consumers visit price comparison sites at the time of their car insurance renewal. The report indicates that there is a high level of trust of website information, as does the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, which suggests that people find the internet easier to use than product disclosure statements. In the light of the complete failure of FuelWatch and, more recently, the Grocery Choice website, supported by the federal government, my question is: are comparator websites a matter for discussion at the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs and, if not, will the minister bring it to the ministerial council's attention in the interests of consumer protection for South Australians?

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) (14:31): I thank the honourable member for the question. Indeed, there is an increasing reliance by consumers upon computers to obtain advice and information. Of course, as the honourable member indicated, it presents a whole range of quite different challenges for us in terms of regulation, setting standards, and so on. Indeed, it is an area where quite a bit of work needs to be done. Following her question in parliament a month or two ago about potential problems with aggregated insurance websites, I checked my own correspondence. I requested some advice on whether my office had received other complaints or concerns.

The advice I received is that we had not. Nevertheless, I believed that the issue was potentially of enough concern that I wrote to the federal minister, Craig Emerson, and requested an outline of his assessment of how big a problem he thinks it might be, whether his office had received many complaints and whether it was seen as an issue of growing concern, given that it had been raised in parliament in South Australia. I also asked him whether there was any particular advice that his office was giving out, in terms of protections or standards, that might help improve protection for consumers, and whether he could Confidential and Subject to Revision inform me of those matters. I have not yet received a reply from him.

It is a matter that I would be only too happy to pursue following the ministerial forum.