30 June 2010
ESTIMATES COMMITTEE B
Nick McKim MP, Minister
for Human Services, Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection,
Minister for Community Development, Minister for Climate Change,
Minister for Sustainable Transport and Alternative Energy
O'Connor MP, Secretary to
Stevens, Deputy Secretary
Director of Prisons
Batt, Director, Office of
Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
of Premier and Cabinet
Evans, Director, Policy
and Programs, Program Development Unit
Director, Office of Climate Change
Fair, safe and equitable marketplace –
FINCH - When I think of
consumer protection, I think of food labelling. What scope does
Tasmania have to tighten up here on our food labelling or are we
stuck with the national system? If this is the case, is
Tasmania doing enough to influence the national labelling system?
I am thinking particularly of GM foods here. Are we able to
have an influence there?
McKIM - This is
effectively dealt with by a mechanism of national agreements and in
the Tasmanian context it is being dealt with by the Department of
a personal level I have been very supportive of as much information
as possible being made available. We have unit pricing in some
supermarkets in Tasmania at the moment and I am a big supporter of
unit pricing. I am very happy to see the concept of food moles
being introduced into restaurants and other places where food
products are purchased. An informed consumer is an empowered
consumer, as far as I am concerned. But in the context of the
information that you have suggested, that is being dealt with as
of a national process.
FINCH - You mentioned
supermarkets. There are many Tasmanian consumers who are
worried about the virtual supermarket duopoly. I realise that
IGA does play a role there in Tasmania. Does a duopoly concern
McKIM - It is not
something that has been brought to my attention as a minister and
there would be various national processes that would need to be
considered. The ACCC may have a view on that. I am not
personally aware of any work they have done on that issue. I am
not sure whether it is something that comes into Consumer Affairs as
a regular complaint or anything like that. Mr Batt might
know but it is certainly not something that has been brought to my
attention as minister.
Mr BATT -
We do not have direct responsibility but clearly the use of unfair
bargaining power is an issue that has been the centre of attention
with the ACCC for some time. I think the general conclusion in
the dialogue over a period of time is that what is lacking in
Tasmania is sufficient competition. Certainly there would be
benefits to Tasmanian consumers if we could get other players in the
market. That is not something we can legislate. There is
greater competition in mainland capital centres. If Aldi were
encouraged to come here, that would certainly improve it but there is
no legislative solution.
McKIM - No. More
competition is good but I can indicate that there has been no contact
into my office since I have been minister on this issue.
DEAN - I take this
opportunity to thank Mr Batt for his assistance the other day.
McKIM - I am pleased to
hear that. I've found he has been very helpful.
DEAN - Are consumer
protection incidents increasing or is the number static?
BATT - Overall it is
reasonably static. I do not think we can say it is a big trend
and I looked before I came down. I think what we are seeing is
a consolidation and I think this is consistent with our focus on bond
authority, for example - a consolidation of residential tenancies
being a core component of the things that we do. I think it now
comprises roughly 30 per cent. We will expect however with
the adoption of the Australian consumer law and the expansion of our
general power, which is a matter to be considered by Parliament, that
this will result in an increase in responsibility and workload.
McKIM - We do have quite
a large number of statistics available in relation to complaints and
inquiries. A month or six weeks ago I did a walk around with
Mr Batt of Consumer Affairs, and they are flat chat in there, I
can tell you. In 2008-09 there were nearly 12 500
inquiries. These are big numbers, and that is the last year
that we have full-year figures. In 2009-10 to 1 June this
year there were just under 10 000 so it might come in
fractionally under this year with maybe a small decrease.
Nevertheless, those are significant numbers. I will just give
you a quick snapshot, some of the star categories, if you like.
DEAN - That is what I
wanted - any category that might stand out.
McKIM - The ones that
stand out are general household goods, just under $2 000;
general services - and I will ask Mr Batt about them in a
minute - and general services would be things like garden
maintenance and so forth, $2 300; policy and legislation, nearly
$4 000 and that is the highest number, just under a third of the
inquiries; and real estate and accommodation, just under $1 500.
Those figures are in 2008-09, the last calendar year. So you
can see some of the more popular areas for inquiry.