The Trade Practices Amendment (Australian Consumer Law) Bill 2009 has been introduced into Parliament with proposed amendments to the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) (TPA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 (Cth). The amendments introduce provisions regulating unfair contract terms in standard form business-to-consumer contracts, as well as new penalties, enforcement powers and consumer redress options relating to these provisions. At this stage, the government has not introduced provisions to regulate unfair terms in business-to-business contracts.

The Bill incorporates 13 different consumer protection laws into one and marks the first step in a series of legislative changes that will see the implementation of a national Australian Consumer Law (ACL) by 1 January 2011.

A second Bill is to be introduced into Parliament in 2010 to complete the ACL. This will implement a national approach to product safety, whereby a state imposing an interim ban on a product as a result of safety concerns will notify the government, who will then apply the interim ban nationally pending a decision as to whether a permanent national ban is required. Unfair terms in business-to-business contracts will also be considered by the government.

All Australian jurisdictions will be required to apply the full ACL by 1 January 2011, although states may begin to implement before this date if it is viable. It will form part of Commonwealth law by the start of 2010.

Although the law is not to apply in retrospect, businesses should be mindful of the new provisions when drafting standard form contracts and should seek legal advice if uncertain of their proposed application.