Tackling runaway energy and telecom prices, dubious environmental claims and mounting losses from online scams will spearhead the work of Australia’s consumer watchdog over the next 12 months.
Unveiling its annual compliance and enforcement priorities at an Australian Economic Development Committee event in Sydney on Tuesday, ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said cost of living pressures would also figure strongly in the commission concerns for 2023/24.
“Our priorities must and do reflect the issues affecting the… economy, consumers and businesses,” said Ms Cass-Gottlieb.
He said it was especially important for Australians to be able to make informed decisions about what services were right for them in terms of price and quality at a time when they were struggling with shrinking household budgets.
Describing the impacts of the war in Ukraine and what he called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of energy as a weapon, Cass-Gottlieb said the resulting record prices and disruption to global markets were likely to continue to medium term.
In response, the ACCC’s enforcement of the federal government’s emergency price cap on wholesale gas would continue to consume “a substantial portion” of its focus on monitoring and reporting on player conduct during the game. next year.
Another area where the commission would further expand its efforts was in targeting greenwashing claims in relation to environmental efforts and sustainability.
“Consumers, shareholders and governments are looking for legitimate change, not smoke and mirrors when it comes to environmental initiatives implemented by companies,” said Ms. Cass-Gottlieb.
“The ACCC can play a role in ensuring that companies tell the truth about the environmental impacts of the goods and services they supply.”
A recent internet sweep of potential greenwashing claims revealed that 57 percent of companies reviewed made claims about their credentials, mostly in the cosmetics, apparel, and food and beverage sectors.
When it came to certifying products, companies needed to cite solid, credible scientific evidence, but they increasingly failed to do so.
In the digital economy, the ACCC’s first female president said so-called dark patterns involving consumer difficulty trying to opt out of paid services and the use of personal data to exploit sales top the list of issues of compliance.
Others included manipulation of online reviews and search results, and comparison websites and social media influencers who did not disclose business relationships.
Elsewhere, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the watchdog continued to maintain an active compliance program, with a strong focus on deterrence.
“We were successful in court last year against large companies, including ride-sharing providers, food manufacturers, retail telecommunications providers, motor vehicle manufacturers, waste service companies, dairy processors, and digital platforms,” he said.
Those cases generated penalties totaling more than $200 million, including $60 million from Google and $21 million from Uber for false or misleading representations.
The Federal Court also ordered Australia’s three largest internet providers – Telstra, Optus and TPG – to pay $33 million after admitting to misleading customers about the maximum speeds of internet plans.
Among the main upcoming ACCC cases is Mastercard, which alleges anti-competitive conduct in relation to EFTPOS and cost routing.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the current number one consumer complaint to the ACCC concerns how people can enforce their rights when a product or service is faulty.