In a joint statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert announced that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) will have investigative powers to assess whether a term in a standard form contract may be unfair.
The announcement followed the passing of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Australian Consumer Law Review) Bill 2018, which the government has said makes amendments to clarify and strengthen consumer protections relating to consumer guarantees, unsolicited consumer agreements, product safety, false billing, unconscionable conduct, pricing as well as unfair contract terms.
“This means the regulators will have stronger powers to ensure consumers and small and family businesses are given a fair go and protected from the repeated or widespread use of unfair contract terms,” the government said.
The government added that the new law would ensure that the Australian Consumer Law delivers “effective protection for consumers” while also “equipping regulators with the tools and teeth they need to address consumer harm”.
Further, the bill is designed to promote price transparency for consumers shopping online, which will involve requiring the headline price to include charges automatically applied or preselected by the seller, “even though the buyer may deselect the charge during the transaction”.
“For example, if an airline preselects a $30 baggage fee for customers booking a $500 flight, this amendment requires the airline to display the headline price as $530 from the beginning of the booking process,” the government stated.
It comes after ACCC deputy Mick Keogh told My Business in August that existing regulations around unfair contracts terms are effectively worthless given that “the way the law is structured, it’s not illegal to have unfair contract terms in a contract”.