When the Commonwealth, state and territory governments all agreed to adopt a generic Australian Consumer Law (ACL), they opted to retain their own consumer regulators to administer and enforce it. The ‘one-law, multiple-regulator’ model (box 1) commenced in January 2011.
This Productivity Commission study examines the arrangements for administering and enforcing the ACL. It has been undertaken in parallel with a separate review of the content of the ACL, conducted by Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ).
The study’s scope
The Commission’s main task is to examine the effectiveness of the multiple-regulator model in supporting a single national consumer policy framework, and to make findings on how the model can be strengthened. The study’s terms of reference invoke several questions.
- How are the roles of the national ACL regulators delineated from those of the states and territories?
- Are the 10 ACL regulators collaborating effectively, tapping into each other’s intelligence sources and taking advantage of synergies?
- Are there gaps, overlaps or inconsistencies in administration and enforcement, and how do the ACL regulators’ compliance and enforcement strategies deal with risk?
- What improvements are possible within the constraints of the multiple-regulator model?
The terms of reference also raise questions about the interface between the ACL regulators and the wide array of specialist safety regulators, such as those for building and construction, electrical goods, food, gas appliances and therapeutic goods. Do the different regulators understand where their respective remits begin and end, and how well do they cooperate if there is overlap or a crisis? And how easily can consumers and businesses navigate the system, so that their concerns, complaints and queries do not get lost in a bureaucratic maze?
A residual task is to review the progress made in addressing the issues identified in the Commission’s last (2008) consumer policy report. That report ushered in the single ACL, but not all of the report’s recommendations have been fully implemented. Do governments today need to revisit or revitalise some of those reforms?