Up until 2011, Australian Consumer Law consisted of a mishmash of over 20 different pieces of consumer protection legislation enacted by the various states and territories. This included the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act, and the Fair Trading Acts. There was little consistency and this caused problems for buyers and sellers who operated interstate.
The relatively new uniform nationwide consumer law now provides a broad range of protections for Australian consumers. No matter where you are in Australia, you have the certainty of knowing that your purchases are protected under a single system, and you can sell throughout Australia knowing there is only one set of rules that you need to educate yourself about.
So what is Australian Consumer Law?
This is the law that attempts to make sure that we get a fair deal when we buy something and stops businesses engaging in fraud and other unconscionable practices to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors or take advantage of their customer’s vulnerability or weakness.
The Australian Consumer Law is not intended to be punitive – that is, its main purpose is not to punish those who are doing wrong. The real purpose of the legislation is to protects us as consumers. A consumer is anyone who purchases goods or services, whether from a manufacturer, a wholesaler or a retailer.
Australian Consumer Law imports automatic consumer guarantees that may help you if you have bought goods and services from a business based in Australia that:
- did not work properly;
- broke very quickly;
- was unsafe; or
- did not function as expected.
It contains provisions against unfair contractual terms, misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct and unfair practices, in the fine old Australian tradition of attempting to “Keep the Bastards Honest” (equally as applicable to big corporations and utility providers as it is to politicians…)
Why is it important?
Australian Consumer Law is actually one of the most important laws for an entrepreneur to know about. Compared to many other countries, Australia has very comprehensive consumer laws, and if you are selling your goods and services – or buying goods and services from others – it is a really good idea to ensure you know what your rights and obligations are.
If you are selling goods or services in Australia, it is very important to be familiar with this law, as it can affect the enforceability of your contracts, your policies and procedures around customer complaints and your marketing, advertising and promotional practices.
As a small business or sole trader, I totally get that you don’t have the budget for an in-house legal team to assess your marketing and promotional material to ensure none of your advertising could be considered misleading or deceptive. That is why I believe it is so important to supply this information to you, so that you can educate yourself about the Australian Consumer Law requirements and take your own steps to ensure compliance within the unique and beautiful structure of your own business.
The fines for failing to comply with Australian consumer law requirements can be massive, and while you may think you are safely flying under the radar, it is no excuse to say that you “didn’t know” about these laws when something goes wrong. Instead of worrying about that possibility, wouldn’t it feel so much better to not only know exactly what Australian Consumer Law requires of you AND to know that you are fully compliant with it, providing best practice service to your customers and clients?
Knowing what is required of you puts you in a much better position to avoid the time, stress and financial cost of being fined or having litigation brought against you for breach of the Australian Consumer Laws. When you are certain about what is required of you, you are much more likely to be able to negotiate a better outcome when problems arise. It also puts you on guard and makes you a more informed consumer who is less likely to be taken advantage of through not knowing your rights. Finally, you will be more likely to recognise when other businesses in your industry are employing unfair tactics, and to challenge their behaviour in a way that feels ethical to you.
How I can help
If you have any questions about your consumer law obligations, book a free initial consultation so we can discuss what you need!