Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP comments further on the Fair Go for Consumers and Small Business Bill 2024

28 February 2024 


This amendment to the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Fair Go for Consumers and Small Business) Bill 2024 is simple. It simply inserts a review clause to assess how the legislation is working within two years. This is good process. This is good governance. To ensure that this fast-track priority triage process is not leading, ultimately, to a change of purpose of the ACCC, whereby these designated complainants are getting an undue priority over ordinary consumer and customer complaints, or from other small businesses. It will also enable a review by the government to ensure that these designated complainants are not unfairly taking advantage of the position it puts them in to be able to get priority in complaint consideration and review. As I said previously, these bodies are often fee-for-membership organisations, and there is nothing currently that really protects consumers and customers to still have the opportunity for their complaints to be considered and fast-tracked if they choose not to be within these organisations.

I appreciate the benefit for government or for the ACCC to try and create this triage and priority process, but, ultimately, the purpose of the ACCC is to ensure customer choice and a complaints review mechanism when it comes to consumers, and I think it is very important that that remains the case. Many who submitted in the consultation process have expressed similar concerns. It is worth highlighting the concerns of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, COSBOA. They did note several concerns such as the possible restriction on the number of designated complaints being relatively small, and I note the number of complainants will appear in the forthcoming instrument.

I urge the government to maintain an open mind on this further consultation and on the time line of the ACCC responding to a designated complaint—and whether or not it will actually pursue the complaint and investigate it—and notifying the complainant of its decision regarding that complaint within 90 days. Such complaints may need more urgent action, marking such a time line as too broad. So there are legitimate concerns as to how this may well operate and those concerns can be very sensibly addressed by having a legislated review period of two years so that we can actually flesh out and see whether or not the legislation is working as intended in terms of assisting with dealing with the case load and a more timely consideration of consumer and customer complaints.

Reviewing legislation is a good thing; it is what we are in this place to do. I support the bill but I am also mindful that review to ensure it is working as intended is incredibly important. I note the assistant minister is here, so I would ask the assistant minister not only whether the government will support the amendment but also why not have a review period to ensure that we are protecting this consumer and customer complaints investigation and consideration process?

Small businesses, as he just told this place, are the backbone of our economy. There is more the government could be doing to support small businesses. So, again I say, support this amendment to ensure there is a review, to ensure that this process is back on the agenda for the government within two years and ensure it doesn't slip through the cracks.

We are reviewing whether or not our customer and consumer complaints measure is working through the ACCC to ensure choice, to ensure their rights are protected. The question of duopolies and the lack of competition in certain markets, from airlines to supermarkets, we know, are very much in the news at the moment, so it is incredibly important that we have an ACCC that is fit for purpose. I ask the minister and I urge the government to improve the bill with the amendment to ensure a review period.