|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
From 1900 the Minister of Labour became responsible for administering legislative provisions regulating trade descriptions.
The Factories and Shops Act 1896 introduced provisions requiring all Victorian-made furniture to be stamped. Furthermore, the furniture was to be stamped to indicate whether it was made by "European Labour" or by "Chinese Labour". This represented another legislative means of regulating competitive industry. Similar to the provisions requiring furniture factories employing Chinese to be registered, this provision was introduced to protect the non-Chinese furniture manufacturers from the competition of the Chinese tradesmen who would work longer hours and at lower rates of pay.
The Footwear Regulation Act 1916 was proclaimed on 2 July 1917. This Act provided that a clear description of material used in footwear should be stamped or printed thereon. This legislation also aimed to protect manufacturers of leather footwear from competition by manufacturers using leather substitutes.
Pursuant to the Goods Act 1937 the Department of Labour became responsible for administering new provisions which required certain goods to be marked with trade descriptions as to their quality or purity. A further Act, the Goods (Textile Products) Act 1944 aimed to protect the woollen industry through the proper labelling and marking of textile fabrics with the proportion, by weight, of the various fibres in their constitution. The Goods (Textile Products) Act 1953, operative from 1 August 1954, prohibited the sale of textile products not labelled in the prescribed manner.
The regulation of trade descriptions gradually evolved into a consumer protection function. Administration of the Consumers Protection Act 1964 became a responsibility of the Minister of Labour and Industry in July 1968. It had previously been a responsibility of the Attorney-General (VRG 19). This Act provided for a consultative and advisory council - see consumer affairs consultation.
The Consumer Protection Bureau was established pursuant to the Consumer Protection Act 1970, operative from 16 November 1970. The Consumer Protection Bureau was vested with the following functions:
advising the public as to the provisions of the consumer protection legislation (and taking action to remedy infringements)
inspections of the premises of retailers and manufacturers to ensure compliance with relevant Acts
advising people generally on matters which affect their interests as consumers
receiving complaints of illegal or unfair practices in relation to goods or services and, where appropriate, referring these complaints on to other Government agencies
conducting research and gathering information on matters affecting the interests of consumers.
Complaints investigated were concerned with such matters as the servicing of electrical appliances, door to door sales practices, motor car sales and repairs, and false advertising. The Footwear Regulation Act 1970, operative from 1 January 1971, re-enacted (with amendments) earlier legislation intended to protect the consumer against cheap substitutes for leather, and also to protect the responsible manufacturer against unfair competition from such substitutes.
The Consumer Protection Bureau assumed responsibility for the investigation and enforcement of the trade description provisions previously undertaken by the Department of Labour and Industry. The Consumer Protection Act 1972, operative from July 1972, gave legislative form to this arrangement by replacing the trade description provisions in the following legislation:
Goods Act 1958, Part V (relating to Merchandise Marks)
Footwear Regulation Act 1970
Labour and Industry Act 1958, Part VII/7 (relating to Stamping of Furniture).
The passing of the 1972 Act reflected the change of focus of these provisions from the protection of certain industries against "unfair" competition to the protection of consumers.
In 1973 a Minister of Consumer Affairs (VRG 63) was commissioned for the first time and assumed responsibility for the consumer protection function from the Minister of Labour and Industry.
A Ministry of Consumer Affairs was established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs Act 1973 on 3 June 1974 to generally protect and promote the interests of consumers and to administer the Consumer Protection Act 1972. A Director of Consumer Affairs was appointed on 3 June 1974 and reported to the Permanent Head of the Department of Labour and Industry. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Consumer Affairs Bureau (VA 2736), which replaced the Consumer Protection Bureau following proclamation of the Consumer Affairs Act 1974 on 1 January 1975, did not gain full independence from the Labour and Industry portfolio until 1981.
The functions of the Ministry were:
to protect and promote the interests of consumers
to investigate any matter affecting such interests
to advise and co-operate with government departments, statutory authorities and municipalities
to initiate, promote and encourage practices for the protection of consumers
to inform consumers of their rights and responsibilities
to administer the Consumer Protection Act 1972
The Bureau's functions, as set out in the Consumer Protection Act 1972 (No. 2736) were:
to provide advice to people in respect of matters affecting their interests as consumers
to receive and investigate complaints
to implement consumer education programmes
to conduct research into consumer matters
to initiate action for remedying breaches into legislation.
Although the Bureau operated as a unit within the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, it retained an independent identity. Its functions were very closely related to those of the Ministry and the line of demarcation between the two is obscure. However it appears that the Bureau was the contact point for members of the public approaching the Ministry with consumer queries or problems. Accordingly, its prime function was to investigate and seek to resolve consumer complaints.
Following an administrative re-arrangement in 1983 the Consumer Affairs Bureau was abolished and its functions dispersed to various divisions of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The investigation of consumer complaints was administered by the Complaints and Claims Division of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
The Office of Fair Trading succeeded the Ministry of Consumer Affairs following administrative arrangements introduced in October 1992. The Office administers a range of programs aimed at the achievement of fair market practices. It provides advice to the Government on consumer affairs issues, objectives, policies, priorities and implementation strategies. It acts as a consultant to other government agencies on matters relating to consumers and traders. The Office's services include the provision of advice, information, referral and dispute resolution in relation to consumer and residential tenancy matters.
The Client Services Division of the Office is responsible for the Office's delivery of information, advisory, conciliation and adjudication programs. Through its branches the Division provides public inquiry and referral services, investigation and conciliation regarding complaints in consumer and tenancy matters, administrative support through the Adjudication Support branch to the Residential Tenancies, Small Claims and Credit Tribunals, maintains three regional offices, and provides general finance, administration and personnel services to the Office.
The Development Division manages the Office's research and marketing strategies, public information and funding programs, and provides policy analysis and program review. The Division also provides support to the Prices Commissioner.
The Legislation and Regulation Division is responsible for advising on and giving effect to the Office's legislative program and for providing legal and legal policy advice. The Division develops product safety and information standards and prevents the distribution of dangerous goods. It undertakes prosecutions of persons in breach of legislation assigned to the Minister for Fair Trading, contributes to self-regulation proposals and administers the Office's licensing functions.