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What are Australian consumer and competition laws?

Australian competition and consumer laws aim to protect consumers when buying products and services.

These protections include:

  • Providing basic consumer rights for goods and services
  • Regulating product safety
  • Providing legal avenues for consumers if the standard of the product or service is unacceptable
  • Prohibiting unfair contract terms and harmful business practice

The laws also protect consumers by prohibiting agreements, contracts or understandings between businesses that may lessen competition in their marketplace.

These types of arrangements are known as anti-competitive arrangements.

How does Australian consumer law protect consumers?

The laws aim to promote fair trade and competition.

There are national laws for consumer protection in a range of circumstances including:

  • Methods for consumers to seek penalties, enforcement or redress
  • Unfair contracts
  • Consumer rights guarantee when buying goods and services
  • Product safety and labelling
  • Door-to-door sales and telephone sales
  • Price-monitoring

Consumer rights are also known as consumer guarantees.

Product guarantees

Consumers who have bought products from a business for less than $40,000 (or for more than $40,000 but which are for personal use) are guaranteed that the products:

  • Will work as intended and are fit for purpose
  • Are of acceptable quality
  • Match descriptions or representations made by the seller
  • Have clear title, unless expressly advised otherwise by the seller
  • Have spare parts and repair facilities available for a reasonable period of time (unless the seller says otherwise)

Public Liability

Service guarantees

The consumer guarantees for services, provided that services performed must be:

  • Provided with proper care and skill
  • Fit for purpose
  • Delivered by the end date, or within a reasonable time if no time is set

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What happens if there's a problem with the product or service?

If you’ve purchased a product or service and you’ve encountered a problem, you have the right to seek a repair, replacement or refund of the purchase price.

How the issue is resolved will depend on whether it’s major or minor.

For a minor issue, the business can repair, replace or refund. For a major issue, you may decide that you want a replacement or refund.

Some businesses display signs that refuse refunds under any circumstances (including for faulty items).

This is against the law.  

Because consumer guarantees are indefinite, they will last long after manufacturer or retail warranties have expired.

Anti-competitive behaviour

In competition law, anti-competitive behaviour may occur when two or more organisations agree about how they’ll conduct their business.

They would ordinarily be competitors, and the effect of their agreement is that it significantly reduces competition (or is likely to do so).

Other types of anti-competitive behaviour include:

  • Cartel conduct
  • Collective bargaining and boycotts
  • Misuse of market power
  • Exclusive dealing, in which one organisation restricts another organisation’s trading activities
  • Resale price maintenance, in which an organisation imposes minimum prices for reselling goods or services
  • Unconscionable conduct, in which an organisation acts unreasonably or takes advantage of a consumer

Penalties for anti-competitive behaviour include significant fines and even imprisonment.

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If your business is suffering due to suspected breaches of competition law, or if your business is accused of breaching the law, you’ll need legal advice as soon as possible.

Contact us to discuss your situation.

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