It not against the law to sell unsafe products in Australia. Unlike Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Singapore, and Malaysia, there isn’t legislation preventing the supply of dangerous products on our shelves.
Most Australians are shocked to learn of this. They expect the products they buy not to cause them harm.
But the reality is this: our product safety regime is out of step and we are lagging behind. It’s time for that to change.
A number of factors make this a particularly pressing problem. Globalisation has disrupted the supply chain. The days of relying on local production and familiar suppliers have long since passed. In today’s world we face the challenge of ensuring that our national policy settings keep pace with contemporary markets and create the right incentives for world-class product stewardship; and right now we are out of step with community expectations.
Alarmingly, there are abut two deaths and 145 injuries per day caused by unsafe consumer products. The ACCC estimates that each year the cost of harm from unsafe consumer goods in Australia is at least $5 billion. This is a very conservative estimate, and based on broad evidence we believe it could be considerably higher.
The policy settings that are meant to keep our families safe are not working as they should.
So what is the answer? How do we ensure this most basic right is given to our children and all people in Australia? The solution is introducing a general safety provision to prevent unsafe goods reaching our shelves.
Currently, Australia’s product safety regime is reactive, and generally relies on regulatory intervention after a consumer has been injured or has died, rather than putting the onus on suppliers to ensure their products are safe in the first place.
There are countless examples of this reactive model, from house fires caused by exploding hoverboards through to the tragic deaths of children who have swallowed button batteries.
This is a serious problem. Despite our best efforts and countless regulatory initiatives, unsafe products continue to enter the market and unnecessarily harm consumers.
Adopting a general safety provision would bring Australia into line with international safety regimes. We look forward to responding to the government’s regulatory impact statement on this important issue when it is released. It is vital we get this right and that all businesses commit to protecting their customers.
The sooner a general safety provision is introduced, the safer Australians will be.
Rod Sims is chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.