The Australian Consumer Law ("ACL") is the uniform Commonwealth, State and Territory consumer protection law that took effect on 1 January 2011. It contains Australia's key product liability and product safety legislation.
On 12 June 2015 Consumer Affairs Ministers agreed Terms of Reference for the review of the ACL which will commence in 2016. The review will consider the effectiveness of the provisions of the ACL and the enforcement and administration arrangements supporting the ACL.
The review will be undertaken by Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand ("CAANZ") with a final report to be provided to Consumer Affairs Ministers in early 2017.
The main aim of the review is to assess the law’s impact on protecting consumers and streamlining regulatory requirements for business. It will also assess the effectiveness of the collaborative enforcement model adopted by regulators administering the law - the "one law, multiple regulators" model. (See 10 July 2015 media release from The Hon Bruce Billson MP, Minister for Small Business, 18 September 2013 - 21 September 2015)
CAANZ will consult widely with consumer representatives, businesses and the wider public, with public consultation on the review to begin formally in 2016.
The review will also be informed by the second Australian Consumer Survey which will be conducted from the end of 2015 (which will build on the findings of the first Australian Consumer Survey conducted in 2010-11). This survey will assess consumer and business awareness of their rights and obligations under the ACL and how this has changed since its commencement in 2011, as well as determine whether laws are working as intended to prevent unfair trading without unreasonably burdening businesses.
The review will also examine the flexibility of the ACL to respond to new and emerging issues to ensure that it remains relevant into the future as the overarching consumer law in Australia. (See 10 July 2015 media release from The Hon Bruce Billson MP, Minister for Small Business, 18 September 2013 - 21 September 2015)
The review is an important opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers of products to have a say in how well the product safety and product liability provisions of the ACL are (or are not) working, and to help shape amendments to the legislation.
One area in the ACL which has been the subject of criticism is the regime for mandatory reporting of product safety incidents. Many businesses believe that mandatory reporting creates an onerous compliance obligation for them, while delivering a disproportionately low benefit to product safety regulators and consumers. This is particularly so in respect of regulated products, for which there were already safety reporting requirements before the introduction of the ACL. Regulated industries were intended to be exempted from the mandatory reporting requirements, but the drafting of the ACL and regulations failed to achieve this.
The food industry has succeeded in obtaining an exemption from mandatory reporting, which is expected to be implemented in early 2016. Pharmaceuticals and medical devices also seem appropriate for exemption, given they are already heavily regulated.