Enforcement and Effectiveness of Consumer Law in Australia
The Australian system is predicated on persuasion for corporate compliance through self-regulatory mechanisms, breach reporting and strategic regulatory intervention. A consumer in dispute with a business may register a complaint with the business or the regulator, and has the option of internal dispute resolution, external dispute resolution schemes such as Ombudsmen, an administrative Tribunal or a Court. The regulator can take independent enforcement action, initiate representative proceedings, and can also intervene in existing proceedings. In the Australian multi-regulator framework and with multi dispute options, it may sometimes be difficult for a consumer to know precisely how to proceed. Consumer law is administered by ten regulators (two national and eight State or Territory) plus separate specialist regulators for certain safety and telecommunications issues. However the agencies operate a ‘no wrong door’ approach which eventually leads consumers to the appropriate regulator. There is a general view that the multi-regulator model works well but is not flawless. In addition to confusion about where to go to resolve a dispute, there are issues of how fast the matter will be resolved and in some venues whether compensation will actually be paid. The system is currently being assessed from different perspectives and the various reports (discussed later) indicate that in general it works reasonably well though there is definitely room for improvement to enable consumers to resolve their disputes and meet their legal needs.