CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
It is a pleasure to join you here at the National Consumer Congress, at your first in-person consumer congress since COVID hit.
If the last two years have taught us anything it is that nothing compares with meeting in person.
It is my great honour to join you today as a member of the first Albanese Government ministry.
We have been preparing for this for a very long time.
I was first elected to Parliament in 2010 and have been in the shadow ministry since 2013.
I have worked across many areas of relevance to those of you here, and the consumers you represent – in regional communications and services, across territories and local government.
As Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services since 2019.
With added responsibilities for superannuation from 2019.
Now as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services I am looking to a new era of cooperation and collaboration, and meaningful reforms to strengthen protections for Australian consumers.
As consumer advocates you are animated by consumer rights and fair play. So is the Albanese Government.
But it always struck as bizarre that our predecessors who talked so much about economic policy knew so little about it.
They talked so much about managing the economy, but did so little of it.
Any cursory understanding of markets tells us that consumer rights make efficient markets:
Safe products are not only good for consumers but they generate productive workplaces and productive economies;
Informed consumers create efficient markets and a stronger economy.
Microeconomic reform that levels the competitive playing field and create strong consumer rights can only enhance the productivity of the economy.
So the Albanese Labor Government’s approach to economic reform will have consumers at its centre.
The Commonwealth Government is back in the game of consumer affairs because it is good for consumers and it is at the heart of economic reform.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Robust consumer protections are at the core of a strong economy.
Strong consumer protections increase consumer welfare, ensure businesses can be held to account, and contribute to the growth of dynamic and effective markets in which businesses can thrive.
The previous government allowed scams to quadruple under their watch.
Reported losses in 2021 alone were almost $1.8 billion.
But the total cost to the economy by one estimate could be around $30 billion last year alone and getting worse.
In March this year consumer scam losses doubled over the previous month, according to Scamwatch.
Under the previous Government, Australia has been a soft target for scammers.
They ignored Labor’s calls to improve protections and to establish a National Anti-Scam Centre.
They watched as other jurisdictions like the UK and Canada took decisive steps to protect their citizens.
The Albanese Government, the era of standing by and doing nothing has ended.
Labor promised to combat scams, and we will stick to our promise.
Labor’s Scambuster policy will tackle scams head on. We will:
Establish a National Anti-Scam Centre, bringing together law enforcement, banks, telcos, consumer affairs advocates and regulators to respond to emerging scams in real-time;
Introduce tough new mandatory industry codes to make social media companies, banks and telcos responsible for choking off scams;
Increase funding for victim recovery services so consumers and small business owners can get their lives back on track quicker; and
Review penalties for fraudulent and deceptive conduct online to increase the consequences for would-be scammers;
And as the Minister with responsibility for Financial Services, I look forward to working with all of you here on these policies.
Collaboration with States and Territories/New Zealand
Finally, collaboration between Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, as well as with our New Zealand counterparts, is vital to ensuring the Australian Consumer Law stays fit for purpose in the face of emerging challenges.
As Minister, I intend to ensure the Commonwealth works collaboratively with the states, territories and New Zealand on consumer matters and demonstrates national leadership.
That is why I will shortly be writing to my state and territory counterparts on how we can best work together.
I believe that regular ministerial meetings would help to foster the development of a shared and focussed consumer reform agenda, and ensure State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments work together, along with collaboration with our New Zealand neighbours, to better protect Australian consumers.
Conclusion and thanks
Strong consumer protections are at the backbone of a well-functioning economy.
Many of you here today see firsthand the impacts of existing and emerging threats facing consumers today.
The continued resilience, sustainability and adaptability of our consumer affairs framework is vital.
We will play our part by holding to our election commitments to strengthen consumer protections.
We will consult in depth, communicate broadly, and collaborate on change.
Thank you again for the invitation to speak to you today.
I look forward to working with you.