In an advanced economy like ours, safety is something we have a right to expect. And most people assume that we have strong laws in Australia, keeping us safe in our day-to-day life as a consumer.
In some ways they're correct. We do have strong laws against misleading or deceptive advertising, with big penalties for businesses that breach them. We also have consumer guarantees that give you the right to a refund, repair or replacement if there's a major problem with a product you have bought. And the government can order a mandatory recall where there's a serious safety concern, as it did after CHOICE exposed serious problems with Takata airbags.
As good as some of these laws are, there are also some pretty big gaps. Contrary to what most people think, we don't have any law that requires a business to check that a product is safe before it's sold in Australia. Our product safety laws generally only kick in after people have been injured rather than trying to prevent injuries in the first place. That allows unsafe products to be sold, sometimes resulting in serious injury or death without any legal consequences for businesses.
Bear this in mind through the federal election campaign, where you're bound to hear speeches about the need to remove red tape in the name of economic recovery
When you think about safety in a broader sense, to include your financial safety and security, there are some even bigger holes in the law. Our credit laws, for example, are so narrowly drafted that they have allowed a whole new type of debt to emerge without being properly regulated. I'm talking about buy now, pay later products like Afterpay, which present themselves as an alternative to credit cards without being subject to the same consumer protection laws. Last year we gave a CHOICE Shonky award to one of the worst examples, Humm, which lends up to $30,000 for things like solar panel installation or cosmetic surgery, without being required to do proper credit checks.
Financial counsellors, who provide free advice to people in financial difficulty across the country, are now seeing clientswith very large buy now, pay later debts, often spread across multiple providers. At least some of these problems would have been stopped if buy now, pay later was properly regulated.
These gaps in our law cause harm that could be prevented. Bear this in mind through the federal election campaign, where you're bound to hear speeches about the need to remove red tape in the name of economic recovery. Well-drafted laws keep us all safe and reward the businesses that treat the safety of their customers as a priority. Surely that's a better aspiration.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.