Consumer Affairs

Australia’s Consumer Laws need changing.

Three children have died since 2013 and 20 children are hospitalised each week in Australia after swallowing button batteries alone.

Last year the Australian Football League issued an urgent product safety recall following the 2020 Grand Final for 31,000 LED wristbands powered by button butteries that were not properly secured, representing a significant risk of harm, particularly to children.

In December last year the Government finally announced a mandatory safety standard for button batteries with industry given 18 months the comply with the new standard.

However, Australians would be shocked to know that mandatory safety standards only exist for around 45 product types in Australia. That is a very small group of products.

For every other product, consumer law is reactive. We wait until something bad happens before we take any form of action.

Australia has more safety recalls than any other OECD country—around 650 each and every year. But fewer than half of recalled products are returned. The other half, almost two million unsafe products, are still in people's homes. That is why unsafe products cause more than 700 deaths and an incredible 52,000 injuries in Australia every year costing at least $5 billion to the economy. That is totally unacceptable.

But it's not surprising. There is no law in Australia that prevents a business from selling an unsafe product. 

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is reactive in the absence of a general product safety provision. A general product safety provision in the ACL would place a clear onus on sellers to ensure the safety of products they sell to Australians – it is common sense.

This would mean businesses are obligated to ensure the products they sell are actually safe.

Many other countries already have such obligations. Britain has had a general safety provision for more than 30 years. The EU implemented a similar rule in 1992. Even the United States has a provision for children's products. But not Australia.

A general product safety provision would create incentives for businesses not to sell unsafe product and it would empower regulators to ensure safety, allowing unsafe products to be withdrawn before any potential tragedy occurs.

It would also help Australian manufacturers, giving international consumers more confidence in the quality of our products.

I have been calling on the Federal Government to introduce a general product safety provision in the ACL in parliament and this year I will be introducing a bill to do that, in the absence of any action from Government.

There are plenty of good reasons to support a general safety provision, but surely the most important one is that it will keep our children safe.