Governments at the Commonwealth and state and territory levels have all played a role in the history of consumer product safety in Australia. During the 20th century, all governments brought in laws to protect consumers from dangerous products.
Sometimes the state and territory consumer regulators created laws ahead of the Commonwealth, and sometimes the Commonwealth took the lead. Generally, where there have been overlaps, the laws have been very similar.
Here is a brief timeline of Australia’s Commonwealth consumer product safety history. Each state and territory also has a history of monitoring and regulating unsafe consumer products.
The Commonwealth introduces the Trade Practices Act.
The Trade Practices Commission is established.
The power to ban the sale of unsafe goods and bring in national consumer product standards is added to the Trade Practices Act.
Division 1A is added to the Trade Practices Act, with new provisions including:
requiring companies to notify the minister of recalls
giving the minister power to order compulsory product recalls.
A strict product liability regime is introduced when the Commonwealth adds Part VA to the Trade Practices Act.
The Commonwealth establishes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as an independent statutory authority to administer the Trade Practices Act and other Acts. The ACCC replaces the Trade Practices Commission.
The Commonwealth transfers product safety compliance and enforcement functions to the ACCC.
The Commonwealth creates the Product Safety Recalls Australia website for consumers and businesses. All safety recalls, whether they fall within the jurisdiction of a specialist regulator (such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)) or of the ACCC, are listed on the site.
The maximum penalty under the consumer protection provisions in the Trade Practices Act, including product safety provisions, rises to $1.1 million.
The Ministerial Council for Consumer Affairs (MCCA) begins a major review of Australia’s national product safety system and laws.
The Commonwealth transfers product safety regulatory policy to the ACCC.
The Productivity Commission releases the report of its review, commissioned by the MCCA, of the national product safety system. The report gives a thorough analysis of the Australian system, compares it to other product safety systems and recommends a range of improvements.
The Commonwealth begins making changes to the national consumer product safety system as per the MCCA’s decision, expecting to finalise them by 2011. For more details of these changes, view Australian Consumer Law.
The harmonisation of product safety regulations across Australia continued through cooperation between Commonwealth and state and territory regulators.
As of 1 January 2011, Australia has a single product safety system: the Australian Consumer Law.
On 17 March 2010 the Trade Practices Amendment (Australian Consumer Law) Bill (No.1) 2010 was passed by both houses of the Australian Parliament. Bill (No.1) received royal assent on the 15 April 2010. This bill implemented key elements of the ACL, including new provisions for the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA) dealing with unfair contract terms. The enforcement and remedies provisions commenced on the 15th April 2010. The unfair contract terms law commenced on 1 July 2010 as a law of the Commonwealth, and applies to corporations. The states and territories have been able to apply the unfair contract terms provision from 1 July 2010, should they decide to do so. The first stage also encompassed the introduction of a number of new remedies and powers, including:
The second stage introduced reforms drawing on best practice in state and territory consumer laws, a new national product safety system and a new national law guaranteeing consumer rights when buying goods or services. The legislation was passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament on 24 June 2010 and received Royal Assent on 13 July 2010. This legislation brings together the current consumer protection provisions of the TPA and best practice reforms adapted from state and territory fair trading legislation. It also changes the name of the TPA to the Competition and Consumer Act.
State and territory governments have passed legislation to apply the entire ACL to each Australian jurisdiction.
Under our product safety system many products have been the subject of bans, mandatory standards or warnings. Here are some examples of products that have been banned or were the subject of a warning because they could cause serious injury or death. It may seem hard to believe now that such obviously dangerous products could emerge in the Australian marketplace. But from time to time this does happen and our product safety system works to quickly remove the risks. In each of these cases, the steps taken have made these products merely part of our history and they are no longer available in the Australian market.
These were inflated or inflatable pontoon shoes designed to help the person wearing them stand or walk on water. They were unstable and unsafe to use on either water or land. If wearers fell over, the shoes forced their heads below water. The shoes became difficult to remove under water and could have caused wearers to drown. If used in a concrete swimming pool, wearers may have fallen against the pool surround, which may have resulted in severe head injuries.
The T-Seat was an American-made black plastic seat with a single support shaft. Although the T-Seat came with instructions advising the user to sit down slowly on the seat, if the user sat down heavily the support shaft could pierce the seat and injure the user.
This device consisted of an air pump powered by the user's leg movements. The pump drew air from the water’s surface for the user to breathe, but the amount of air received depended on continual leg movement. If a user stopped moving their legs, they would receive no oxygen and could drown.
The Quickie Line Release was a water skiing line release system. It was intended as a safety device that the skier could use to quickly release the towline (ski rope) and prevent being dragged underwater. But the line release system malfunctioned and failed to release the ski line. The design fault could have caused the skier to become trapped underwater and possibly drown.