Consumer Rights Bill Passed in the Senate with 25 Amendments


Legislation to provide for the protection of consumer rights was passed in the Senate on Friday (Nov.19) but only after lengthy deliberations, which resulted in 25 amendments to the Act.
Leader of Government Business, Senator Burchell Whiteman, piloted the Bill titled ‘The Consumer Protection Act 2004’, which seeks to provide for the promotion and protection of consumer interests in relation to the supply of goods and services.
The Bill aims to combine aspects of the current law dealing with the sale, purchase or provision of goods and/or services and provides the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) with powers to investigate the conduct of providers of goods or services, who have been reported to be infringing on the rights of consumers.
It also improves the redress received by a consumer whose rights have been breached, creates offences for misleading and deceptive conduct, false representations, unfair and unsafe practices and ensures that the contracts made between consumers and providers contain provisions that satisfy the test of reasonableness.
Furthermore, it allows for the registration of providers of goods or services and provides redress for the Commission by the offender, where the Commission defends a matter in Court.
Opposition Senator Shirley Williams, while lauding the efforts to protect and educate the consumer, questioned the necessity of a new act to address matters already covered by the Fair Trading Act. She noted also, that the language of the Act was not user friendly and could pose difficulties for the lay reader.
Senator Williams also argued that the provisions authorizing the Commerce, Science and Technology Minister to regulate the distribution, purchase or sale of goods of any class or description “were all too powerful”. The Act empowers the Minister to request information from persons as to the nature and element of services provided.
“Why do we need a commission to be empowered for a Minister to direct that private and confidential information of businesses and professional practices be disclosed at the direction of the Minister?” she questioned.
Replying to the concerns, Senator Whiteman said the provision to obtain information concerning the contents of goods, could serve the interest of both consumer and provider, as the information volunteered might be useful in assessing whether prices attached to goods and services were justifiable. “All of this is to obtain information to help the flow of information to the public,” he asserted.
Senator Whiteman further dismissed suggestions that the administration was seeking to re impose price controls and disturb the operations of the market as “totally unfounded.”
He also rejected claims that the Bill was unnecessary but conceded that, “there was a basis for the amendments to further improve the provisions for improved consumer protection and provision.”

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