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Overview

In 2010 comprehensive legislation was passed by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to unify and rationalise previously inconsistent and inefficient state laws relating to consumers. These national laws are called the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The Trade Practices Act 1974 was renamed as the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and had its consumer protections sections repealed and replaced by Schedule 2 which, together with its regulations, makes up the ACL.

The ACL creates a single, national consumer law for Australia. It applies to all businesses regardless of their size or business structure. The ACL is enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the state and territory fair trading agencies (eg NSW Fair Trading) and, where it applies to financial services, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Under the ACL, consumers have the same protections and expectations about business conduct wherever they are in Australia. Similarly, businesses will have the same obligations and responsibilities wherever they operate in Australia. The principles underpinning the ACL are consistent with those in current consumer protection legislation – fair and honest trading.

The introduction of the ACL was one of the most significant reforms in the history of Australian consumer protection and rights. The new law reduces the compliance burden for businesses and creates a national harmonised system of consumer protection and product safety.

General protections under the ACL

There are three areas of consumer protection dealt with in Chapter 2 of the ACL where ‘general protections’ are created to provide general standards of conduct in trade or commerce.

These are:

  • misleading or deceptive conduct – there is a broad prohibition on misleading or deceptive conduct in trade or commerce;
  • unconscionable conduct – there is a broad prohibition on unconscionable conduct in trade or commerce; and
  • unfair contract terms – unfair contract terms in consumer contracts are void.

Specific protections under the ACL

The ACL creates specific protections for consumers against unfair business practices in the following areas:

  • unfair practices;
  • consumer transactions;
  • safety of consumer goods and product-related safety; and
  • information standards.

These are covered in more detail in other sections.

Other NSW consumer legislation

The following table lists some of the other commonly encountered areas of consumer regualtion in NSW.

 

Contracts Contracts Review Act 1980 (NSW)
Injuries or damages Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW)
Real estate agents

Property Stock and Business Agents Act 2002 (NSW)
Property Stock and Business Agents Regulation 2003

Motor vehicles Motor Dealers Act 1974 (NSW)
Lawyers

Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW)
Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW)

Conveyancers Conveyancers Licensing Act 2003 (NSW)
Funeral funds Funeral Funds Act 1979 (NSW)
Health services Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW)
Energy

Electricity Supply Act 1995 (NSW)
Gas Supply Act 1996 (NSW)
Marketing Code of Conduct (for door-to-door and telephone marketing)
Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001
Gas Supply (Natural Gas Retail Competition) Regulation 2001
Service and Installation Rules of NSW
Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (consumer privacy)
Residential Parks Act 1998 (NSW) (tenants in residential parks)
Customer Services Standards for the Supply of Electricity to Permanent Residents of Residential Parks 2006
Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004 (NSW)
Electricity Supply (Safety and Network Management) Regulation 2002

Water Sydney Water Act 1994(NSW)
Sydney Water Catchment Management Act 1998(NSW)
Hunter Water Act 1991(NSW)
Local Government Act 1993(NSW)
Central Coast Water Corporation Act 2006 (NSW)
State Water Corporation Act 2004 (NSW)
Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) (tenants)