A key priority for the Bracks government is to facilitate better ways in which our markets can operate.
Indeed this bill contributes to the better operation of markets by ensuring that consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, are well informed and protected.
This bill makes Victoria’s consumer laws more effective, efficient and definitely more transparent. It also ensures that there is a shift in the enforcement of consumer protection legislation from an emphasis on criminal prosecutions to a much greater reliance on civil and administrative interventions. That has been a trend that the Bracks government has brought to this place and has overseen since 2004 with the introduction of the Fair Trading (Enhancement Compliance) Act.
The amendments contained in the bill that have been ably outlined by Ms Mikakos will further ensure that the protection framework is enhanced, and indeed there will be a streamlining of the availability of compliance and enforcement tools.
One example of this is in the area of product safety. I am very pleased to see that there is now the provision that allows courts to order the destruction of dangerous goods that do not comply with the prescribed safety standards. Previously such orders were confined to goods that did not comply with prescribed safety standards. The non-compliance of safety standards can render products just as dangerous as banned items, and there is a real need to introduce these amendments to extend these powers due to an increase in non-compliance of the prescribed standards.
It is important for the chamber to know that so far this year Consumer Affairs Victoria has seized more than 76 000 banned or regulated products, and many of these are children’s toys. The types of goods that these amendments will protect consumers from when there is prescribed safety standards compliance failure include baby walkers and baby toys.
When I visited the Geelong office of Consumer Affairs Victoria in February there was a targeted campaign towards children’s toys. The shop front of CAV in Geelong had a very extensive display of children’s toys that, on the surface, one would say were reasonably okay for children to play with, but there were some examples where, if you just added water, the toy or part of that toy would become some six or eight times the size of the original item; one can just imagine what that could do in a child’s mouth — it could easily slip down the oesophagus or indeed down into the stomach, leaving the child choking, and parents or even medical attendants would find it incredibly difficult to save a child’s life in those circumstances.
A recent safety product case also came to light with the monkey bikes. That has been delayed for more than six months because there is no power under the Fair Trading Act, as we currently have it, to seek a warrant to enter the premises where embargoed goods are stored.
At the moment we cannot order a test to check whether those items comply with the product safety legislation.
This bill will rectify that situation. It will prevent the proliferation of dangerous goods in the marketplace and thereby protect consumers from the potential risk that these goods present to the community. For example, CAV will be able to apply to the court for a warrant to enter premises, to monitor compliance with an embargo notice that prevents potentially dangerous goods from being sold, leased, moved, transferred, or otherwise dealt with, and I think we should all applaud such action. The warrant will also allow the goods to be tested to provide conclusive proof that they do not comply with relevant bans or orders.
The other aspect that will assist members of the community who are disadvantaged and vulnerable concerns changes to unfair contract terms in consumer contracts.
Currently only Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has the power to make such orders.
There are also a number of changes with respect to conveyancing that were mentioned by Mr Atkinson, but in a nutshell there are five key areas that will change in respect to the Conveyancers Act. The first of these is that it simply provides a regulation-making power to set conveyancing qualification requirements. That in itself is an enormous benefit.
The bill also allows for voluntary cancellation or surrender of conveyancers licences, which provision was also previously mentioned. The amendments to the trust accounting provisions in the act to reflect the proposed amendments to the trust accounting provisions in the Legal Profession Act will also provide consistency, and the business licensing authority will have the power to recover costs for certain applications and to waive, reduce or refund fees payable under the act in certain circumstances. It will also of course include a provision setting out the purpose of the conveyancers register.
In a nutshell, the amendments protect, but they also provide a much more efficient marketplace and put in controls that will assist not just consumers but indeed children as well. The amendments will facilitate better markets and ensure that the vulnerable and the disadvantaged are protected.
Victoria’s consumer protection needs to remain effective, efficient and transparent, and I believe all the amendments will actually help us to achieve that. Therefore I commend the bill to the house.