What is the Australian Consumer Law?

The Australian Consumer Law has replaced various State and Territory laws from 1 January 2011.  This means that business and consumers throughout Australia are now governed by the same consumer laws.

The ACL is found in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)

The Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) has been repealed and many of its provisions now appear in the Competition and Consumer Act.

Some parts of the Competition and Consumer Act mirror the wording of the Trade Practices Act, however there have been significant changes to the provisions of the Trade Practices Act. The numbering of the Act has changed therefore Businesses that use documents that refer to the Trade Practices Act and its various provisions should amend those documents so that they now refer to the correct provision of the Competition and Consumer Act.

If you wish to update the documents and agreements that you use in business you may wish by way of example to consider these changes:

Trade Practices Act 1974 Subject/Section Title Competition and Consumer Act
51A Misleading representations with respect to future matters Schedule 2, Section 4
52 Misleading or deceptive conduct Schedule 2, Section 18
51AA Unconscionable conduct within the meaning of the unwritten law Schedule 2, Section 20
51AB Unconscionable conduct Schedule 2 , Section 21
51AC Unconscionable conduct in business transactions Schedule 2, Section 22

One of the most significant changes introduced by the Australian Consumer Law is the introduction of unfair contract terms law, which commenced on 1 July 2010 and which relates only to standard form contracts.  Contracts formed between 1 July 2010 and 1 January 2011 will be governed by the unfair contracts law within the Trade Practices Act. On and from 1 January2011 the ACL will govern unfair contract terms.

Some other matters covered by the ACL relate to a new national law guaranteeing consumer rights when buying goods and services, which replaces existing laws on conditions and warranties.

The intended benefit is that Consumers and Business now have one law applying to consumer transactions using uniform language throughout the States and Territories.  This is an improvement, which long term is likely to result in reduced compliance for business.

The ACCC and politicians say that new terminology will make the law easier to understand.  Lawyers may agree that the existing terminology has been tested and its meaning is understood by courts.  Any change will at least initially add uncertainty.

Some of the terminology used in the Australian Consumer Law while appearing to be plain on the surface, may in a court setting, take some time to attribute consistent useful definitions.

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