Living in a material world - 1970 to the present
The 70’s and 80’s saw an unprecedented expansion of the Australia economy. We had one of the highest living standards in the world and we were making our mark on the world stage. As the economy was growing so too was the spending on consumer goods and services. Our national debt rose to an all time high. The introduction of credit cards marked a change in the spending habits of millions of Australians.
Consumer Affairs Bureau
In response to this climate of change, the New South Wales government introduced the Consumer Protection Act in 1969. This established a Consumer Affairs Bureau and a Consumer Affairs Council.
The Consumer Affairs Bureau was a unit of the Department of Labour and Industry under the control of a Commissioner. It handled consumer complaints. The Consumer Affairs Council was a representative body of private individuals from industry and the broader community which was responsible for advising the Minister on consumer issues.
In 1974 the Consumer Claims Tribunals were established. These allowed consumers access to inexpensive, independent and fast arbitration of their complaints. Strictly speaking Tribunals are not courts, but they determine matters which might otherwise come before the courts.
That same year the Consumer Affairs Council and the Consumer Affairs Bureau were included in a new Ministry of Consumer Affairs. In 1976 a separate government department, the Department of Consumer Affairs, was created. Consumer protection was now well and truly a feature of the political and social landscape of New South Wales.
After being merged with a number of other government departments to form the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs in 1988, a separate Department of Consumer Affairs re-emerged in 1991.
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NSW Fair Trading
In 1995, the Department of Fair Trading was established, bringing together the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Building Services Corporation (formerly the Builders Licensing Board), the Office of Real Estate Services and the Registry of Co-operatives.
In 2003, the Department of Fair Trading was renamed the Office of Fair Trading.
In 2009, the Office of Fair Trading was renamed NSW Fair Trading.
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Commonwealth Trade Practices Act
1974 saw the introduction of theTrade Practices Act by the Federal government. It replaced the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1971, which was designed to regulate trading by corporations but contained no provisions for consumer protection.
Part V of the Trade Practices Act included comprehensive consumer protection provisions. It was a landmark piece of legislation because now, for the first time, there was far-reaching consumer protection legislation in place on a national basis.
In 1987 New South Wales introduced theFair Trading Act. This Act reflects the safeguards contained in Part V of the Trade Practices Act and applied to those traders who, for constitutional reasons, were not covered by the Trade Practices Act. It covers matters such as:
- Misleading or deceptive conduct
- False representation
- Offering prizes and gifts
- Misleading conduct relating to goods
- Bait advertising
- Referral selling
- Accepting payment without intending to supply
- Misleading statements about home-operated businesses
- Coercion or harassment at place of residence
- Pyramid selling
- Consumer product safety and information standards
- Unsolicited goods, directory entries, inertia selling
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Consumer developments during this period
Some of the major consumer developments in this era included:
- 1974 Trade Practices Act - Federal legislation introducing consumer protection on a national basis.
- 1974 Motor Dealers Act - regulates the motor trade by providing licensing; establishing warranty obligations; settling disputes.
- 1977 Landlord and Tenant (Rental Bonds) Act – required that all rental bonds be deposited with the Rental Bond Board to protect tenants.
- 1977 Trade Practices (Amendments) Act – gave power to impose an Australia-wide ban on the sale of unsafe goods.
- 1978 Consumer Protection (Date Stamping) Regulations - provided consumers with additional information on perishable products.
- 1979 Amendments to Motor Dealers Act – licensed car market operators; and rationalised warranties.
- 1979 Rental Advisory Service Established – mediates in rental disputes.
- 1979 Weights and Measures Regulation – dealt with metric labelling on non pre-packed goods.
- 1979 Consumer Protection (Instructions for Care Of Goods) Regulation – required that specific goods carry care instructions.
- 1985 Establishment of the Commercial Tribunal – oversees operations of credit providers, including review of credit contracts.
- 1986 Establishment of Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) - registers the financial interests of credit providers in motor vehicles.
- 1987 Fair Trading Act – mirrors consumer protection provisions of the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act.
- 1988 Establishment of Business and Consumer Affairs – replacing Departments of Co-operatives, Consumer Affairs, Industrial Development and Decentralisation and the Corporate Affairs Commission.
- 1989 Trade Measurement Act – provides for the licensing of individuals to verify weighing and measuring equipment.
- 1995 Establishment of the Department of Fair Trading – incorporating Department of Consumer Affairs, Building Services Corporation (formerly Builders Licensing Board), Office of Real Estate Services and the Registry of Cooperatives.
- 2002 Establishment of the Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal.
- 2003 The Department of Fair Trading becomes an Office within the Department of Commerce.
- 2009 The Department of Commerce is reconstituted as the Department of Services, Technology and Administration (DSTA). The Office of Fair Trading is renamed NSW Fair Trading.
- 2010 Transfer of trade measurement responsibilities to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
- 2010 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) becomes the national regulator for consumer credit, with the exception of the NSW maximum annual percentage rate requirements.
- 2010 Unfair contract terms provisions introduced as part of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)
- 2011 The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) replaces Commonwealth, State and Territory consumer protection legislation in fair trading acts and the Trade Practices Act 1974. The ACL is contained in a schedule to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. In NSW the Australian Consumer Law (NSW) replaces parts of the NSW Fair Trading Act 1987.
- 2011 The Department of Services, Technology and Administration is reconstituted as the Department of Finance and Services (DFS).
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