Several industry bodies have recommended in their submissions to the Australian Consumer Law Review (the Review) that the Government extend the mandatory reporting timeframe as set out by the Australian Consumer Law (Cth) (ACL). These recommendations could potentially impact a business’ reporting obligations under the ACL. Below, we discuss what the ACL currently requires, which organisations are recommending a change and why.
What Does the Act Say?
Section 131 of the ACL requires suppliers of consumer goods to report their products either:
- Associated with the death, serious injury or illness of any person; and
- The supplier considers that the customer’s use (or foreseeable misuse) caused or may have caused the injuries; or
- The supplier becomes aware someone else considers the consumer’s use (or foreseeable misuse) could cause injuries or death.
This also includes food products. At present, a supplier must notify the Minister in writing within two days of becoming aware of an incident.
What Did Industry Bodies Recommend?
The Business Council of Australia argued for extending the two-day reporting period. The organisation believes that in the current time frame, suppliers cannot collate all of the necessary information. As a result, businesses make incomplete reports to regulators who then need to request additional information, increasing regulator’s workloads and aggravating the issue of delay. The Business Council notes that the two-day timeframe is especially problematic when a supplier becomes aware of death, serious injury or illness on the weekend or via social media. As a result, reports made to the Minister in these circumstances are often of an even lower quality.
The Retail Council echoes the submissions made by the Business Council, arguing that the mandatory reporting timeframe should increase from two to four days. If a supplier becomes aware of an issue on the weekend, it’s hard to follow up and hear back from consumers or begin specialist investigations. Changing the reporting timeframe would allow for a more thorough investigation, including sufficient follow up with a customer, without compromising the need to recall genuinely unsafe goods in a timely fashion. A four-day period would also ensure that reports made to the Minister were of a higher standard, allowing regulators to understand the issues better.
Accord Australasia, a peak industry body for cosmetic and personal hygiene product makers, said that the present framework promotes knee jerk reactions. It also advocates for changes where a supplier has ten days to undertake an adequate risk assessment and develop a risk management strategy. These approaches ultimately aim to reduce duplication and over-reporting.
At present, section 131 of the ACL requires a two-day mandatory reporting period. The submissions of industry bodies highlight that the ACL’s effectiveness depends, in part, on its ability to balance competing interests. In this instance, the need to safeguard public safety with an adequate investigation to determine genuine cases of death, serious injury and illness in connection with a good. An interim report is expected later this year as part of the Review.
Watch this space for updates on your consumer law obligations and changes to the mandatory reporting guidelines. If you have any questions or need assistance complying with your obligations under the ACL, get in touch on 1300 544 755.