Playing By The Rules: How Australian Consumer Law Regulates Your Business

January 16, 2017

Although it is a Commonwealth law, the Australian Consumer Law has been enacted into legislation by every Australian State and Territory. This means it applies to anyone carrying on business in any Australian State or Territory or in the Commonwealth – so it applies to Government departments too. It has a very broad reach, so it can apply even to persons who ordinarily live or have a strong connection with a State or Territory, even if they are not Australian citizens, AND even if the behaviour occurs outside that State or Territory, or outside Australia!

Who enforces it?

The Australian Consumer Law is enforced and administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alongside each state and territory’s consumer agency. In the ACT, NSW, Qld, and Tasmania, this agency is called the Office of Fair Trading; in the NT and Vic it is called Consumer Affairs, in WA it is called the Department of Commerce and SA it is called Consumer and Business Services. There is also the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) which oversees any consumer law issues relating to the provision of financial services.

All of these bodies operate together under a Memorandum of Understanding containing broad commitments relating to communication, cooperation and coordination in the administration and enforcement of the Australian Consumer Law.  The Memorandum of Understanding also includes the New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the New Zealand Commerce Commission, reflecting the increasingly integrated nature of Australia’s and New Zealand’s markets.

What transactions does it apply to?

Technically, the provisions of the Australian Consumer Law apply to protect all transactions that occur in Australia, and as a point of law, this includes online transactions where the seller is international, if the transaction was completed by someone entering their payment details in Australia, making Australia the point of sale.

Unfortunately, you are likely to face great difficulty in enforcing the Australian law against an international seller, so even if you went to court and were successful in obtaining a judgment against them, it is likely that you would not get much satisfaction from it, as there is no way to force them to pay up.

Luckily, if you purchase through a reputable online platform such as eBay, or using a service provider such as PayPal or your credit card, they have their own consumer protection provisions built in. Other countries also have their own consumer protection legislation that may help you, and many international sellers who regularly do business in Australia will voluntarily comply with the Australian Consumer Law in order to preserve the reputation in their brand.

How I can help

If you sell goods or services online and have any unanswered questions or niggling worries about your obligations under Australian Consumer Law, you can book a free 30 minute chat to ensure that you are following best practice to give your clients all the care they deserve – while also complying with your legal requirements.

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