Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 29 October 2010.)
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:29): I speak in support of this legislation, which has had quite a long gestation, but I think for good reason. The initiator of the review of our consumer laws was the Hon. Peter Costello as Treasurer, who sought a review by the Productivity Commission, which then fed into the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs and COAG agreements, which have been signed off. The Productivity Commission occurred in the time period of 2007-08, and in the ensuing years the MCCA and COAG have, as I stated, signed various agreements and come up with a package of amendments to all our jurisdictions which will see us adopt the commonwealth's Australian Consumer Law Act into our legislation.
We have been served well through our range of consumer laws over the years, but I think that it is fair to say that, when there are multiple jurisdictions that have similar laws, it is difficult for consumers to understand what their rights are in each jurisdiction, and particularly for business costs, where businesses that operate across various states and territories need to be aware of what all the different nuances of each legislation may be.
The Australian Consumer Law was passed through the federal parliament this year, and I note that the second bill was referred to a Senate committee, the Senate's Economic Legislation Committee and, and the comments at the time were that that particular bill may have been rushed. So, I commend the Senate committee for its work; the report that it has provided is quite extensive. It was tabled in May of this year, and it outlines a large number of submissions that were provided by organisations that we would expect to hear from in South Australia, such as the Motor Trade Association, various consumer groups, retailers and the like, as well as Choice Australia, to enable it to inform itself about what amendments may have been required to the bill.
Particularly through the work of some of the coalition senators, some amendments or recommendations were incorporated into the final bill. The first is that the definition of consumer should allow for a class of consumers that would encompass small business, which is effectively a continuing exemption for transactions of less than $40,000. Secondly, the existing exemption from the Trade Practices Act for the professions of architects and engineers is being retained. Thirdly, there was an issue in relation to a risk-based safety system rather than an incident-based safety system being adopted. That recommendation was not accepted in its entirety. The fourth is to provide a means for specific industries such as the automobile industry to be exempt from incident reporting, because they already have their own regimes.
Fifthly, the definition of an unsolicited consumer agreement should be expanded to include circumstances where consumers are contacted through indirect means. That provides some of the background to that bill. I would also like to refer to some of the speeches as the bill passed through the federal parliament. Indeed, I think the ministerial council may also be required to further examine some areas for future reforms. In particular, Mr Bruce Billson MP, the member for Dunkley, mentioned that he thought it was very unfair that the unfair contracts provision did not apply to small business. He also talked about new technologies and in particular the impact of some of these laws on an organisation like eBay, where I think the laws may need to try and catch up with future technology.
The amendments to what will become our regime in South Australia include covering unfair contract terms in standard form contracts. The new laws will guarantee consumer rights when buying goods and services, replacing existing laws on conditions and warranties. There is a great deal of simplification of language and processes for remedies.
There are amendments to product safety law and enforcement systems which will become much more rapid and effective and I think that is to be highly commended. There are national laws for unsolicited consumer agreements for door-to-door sales and other direct marketing, simpler rules for lay-by agreements, which is the completely new part of these provisions, enforcement penalty powers and consumer redress options which are based on the Trade Practices Act.
So, with those brief comments, I note that I did not read every clause of the federal act as it is very, very extensive and would be a cure for insomnia, I think, but I did come across an excellent publication produced by the commonwealth Attorney-General's office called Australian Consumer Law, which is dated July 2010 and is easy to download. It provides a very good summary of the new provisions. Indeed, we joked with some of our esteemed colleagues in the House of Assembly that it had some pictures in it which would enable them to be able to understand the legislation a little more easily. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house and look forward to further reforms in the future as they may be required and encourage other members to support the bill.