Commissioner's Blog: Celebrating 50 years of protecting consumers
With Consumer Protection recently celebrating its 50th anniversary in Western Australia, we have been reminded that while many things have changed over the last five decades, there is also so much that has remained the same.
Back in the early 1970s, second-hand cars accounted for 40 per cent of the complaints we handled, while travel agents, tenancy and product safety were the other big issues affecting WA consumers.
Now, 50 years later, we have handled 250,000 consumer and tenancy complaints and achieved $69 million in redress for those impacted. Many of the same issues are still relevant today and so too is the way we handle them. Community education, complaints management, public namings and prosecutions remain a consistent way we alert consumers to issues while simultaneously holding to account those who do the wrong thing.
Even though much remains unchanged, the last 50 years have yielded incredible advancements in the way business is conducted.
The speed of electronic communications may have made it easier to do business, but it has also created new opportunities for scammers and dodgy traders seeking to take advantage. Scams and other forms of misleading and deceiving conduct are rapidly evolving issues that will require sophisticated and innovative ways to combat them.
Just as the business landscape changed, so too did the laws that governed it. Up until 11 years ago, there were 17 different national, state and territory laws covering consumer issues in Australia, before they were all replaced on 1 January 2011 with the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). In what remains the most significant change to consumer laws to date, the ACL means that no matter where they are in this country, consumers could know their rights and traders understood their obligations,.
Heralding a new era of consumer protection in Australia, the ACL was backed up with greater penalties and enforcement powers than had existed previously. This afforded State and Federal agencies a wider scope to take action for breaches of consumer laws, provide more compensation options for unlawful conduct, and introduce product safety standards.
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