Following the release of the Final Report of the 2017 Australian Consumer Law Review on proposed legislative reforms to the Australian Consumer Law, Treasury has recently sought submissions on the exposure draft Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018 and the associated regulations and explanatory materials.  For details see here (submissions are due on 28 February 2018).

In summary, the Exposure Drafts include amendments to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) to:

  • clarify existing provisions relating to consumer guarantees, voluntary recalls, unsolicited consumer agreements and false billing;
  • enhance the regulators’ information gathering powers for investigations in relation to product safety and unfair contract terms;
  • extend the unconscionable conduct protections to publicly listed companies;
  • expand the remedies available to the courts for contraventions of the ACL; and
  • improve price transparency.

The Government also introduced the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 3) Bill 2018 (Cth) to Parliament on 15 February 2018. The Bill, if passed, will increase the penalties in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) for breach of the ACL to align the maximum penalties for breach of the ACL with the maximum penalties for breach of the competition provisions of the CCA.

This will mean that the maximum penalty for a body corporate in breach of the ACL will increase significantly  from $1.1 million to the greater of:

  • $10 million;
  • if the court can determine the value of the benefit obtained from the offence, act or omission, by the body corporate and any related bodies corporate – 3 times the value of the benefit; or
  • if the court cannot determine the value of the benefit – 10% of the annual turnover of the body corporate.

Maximum penalties may be imposed where a person engages in conduct including unconscionable conduct, making false or misleading representations, and supplying consumer goods or certain services that do not comply with safety standards.

The amendments will commence from the later of 1 July 2018 and the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent (and will apply to acts, omissions or offences that occur on or after the commencement date).