25 May 2004

Reform of Australia's Product Safety System

Recent media reports have focussed on the issue of consumer product safety, with particular reference to the number of children that have been harmed by consumer items such as prams, baby walkers and other products. The reports call for a substantive overhaul of Australia's laws to ensure consumers are better protected. The Australian Government takes these claims very seriously.

The Government has been active, in consultation with State and Territory governments, in developing reform options for Australia's consumer product safety system. Last week a draft discussion paper, prepared by the Treasury, was circulated to State and Territory consumer protection agencies. The paper was developed in the context of a reference group of Commonwealth and State officials under the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs (MCCA). The paper seeks to develop a comprehensive approach to reforming Australia's product safety framework.

The discussion paper, to be discussed by the Standing Committee of Officials for Consumer Affairs in Melbourne on Friday, 28 May 2004, will be considered for release by the MCCA later this year.

I will be writing to my Ministerial colleagues urging them to support the Commonwealth's efforts in advancing the process of product safety reform and to examine whether the MCCA discussion paper can be released as soon as possible. The discussion paper, which does not seek to limit the policy flexibility of individual Australian jurisdictions, considers comprehensive reforms to Australia's product safety system. In particular, it focuses on ways that the system can better identify and react to emerging safety hazards across the large range of consumer products available on the market. This includes the critically important area of childhood safety hazards. The paper will also consider issues of greater national consistency.

The paper is expected to form the basis for consultations with consumers and business.

I am hopeful that the Commonwealth and the States and Territories can work cooperatively together to develop reform proposals which will ensure Australia has a world's best practice product safety framework.