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Laying down the foundations - 1890 to 1925 

 Detail of old Grace Bros store photo
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In the 1890’s Australia experienced the worst depression in its brief history. Even so, this was a time of great social reform in Australia. Many colonists began to become conscious of the inequalities in their society.

In New South Wales, the Landlord and Tenant Act was passed in 1899. This law set out some of the basic rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. In the same year the Book Purchasers Protection Act was passed (which replaced the earlier Book Purchasers' Protection Act 1890). It dealt with the unsavoury trading activities of door-to-door salespeople, a problem that arises even today.

The Commonwealth Constitution, which was adopted when the Australian States federated in 1901, was heavily influenced by the fierce interstate rivalry that existed at that time. This has caused its own difficulties for consumer protection, which was not covered in the Constitution. Subsequent consumer legislation has been made under a variety of constitutional powers.

As both State and Federal governments are able to make laws, there was until recently little uniformity between the States on vital consumer-related legislation.

Consumer developments during this period

Some of the major consumer developments in this era included:

  •  Detail of fire sale photo
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    1901 Dairies Supervision Act - regulated the production, manufacture and distribution of dairy products.
  • 1902 Public Health Act - covered the sale of unadulterated food, food standards, and fraudulent ingredient labelling.
  • 1902 Pawn Brokers Act - which repealed colonial legislation and regulated the trade and business of pawnbrokers.
  • 1906 Second-Hand Dealers and Collectors Act - provided for the licensing of second-hand dealers and regulated the sale of second-hand goods and old wares.
  • 1912 Factories and Shops Act - dealt in part with deceptive and misleading descriptions of products and representations in advertising.
  • 1915 Weights and Measures Act - stipulated that every contract, bargain, sale, purchase or dealing must be made in accordance with standard weights and measures.

The focus of these laws was business rather than individual consumer rights. Even the landmark Sale of Goods Act in 1923 was principally directed towards commercial sales.

The Sale of Goods Act introduced the concept of “merchantable quality” - that the goods must not have a basic, serious flaw; they must be fit for the purpose for which they were sold; and they must conform to their description or sample. Yet until 1974 sellers could exclude these terms from their contracts. Despite this, the Sale of Goods Act was a crucial development because it was an attempt to tackle the difficult question of product quality.

Go to Money and markets - 1925 to 1945

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