Regular column

Last week I was part of the official opening of the $1.7 billion Hunter Expressway. During the course of the past twenty years I have had the honour and privilege of attending many official openings but I must say, last Friday’s event is one of my proudest achievements.

This project will be transformational. It will provide a bypass, and traffic relief for Cessnock, Maitland, and many communities in between, ridding us of those heavy transport movements. It will dramatically cut travel times from the Cessnock LGA to Newcastle and from the Upper-Hunter townships to both Newcastle and Sydney. It will bring massive levels of investment to the Hunter region: industrial, commercial, residential, and of course first and foremost—or last and foremost—it will improve road safety in the Hunter.

This project will have many fathers, but all those in the Hunter know that this was a Labor initiative, started by Labor, funded by Labor, completed by Labor, and I look forward to the residents of the Hunter region enjoying the benefits of the Hunter Expressway for many years to come. In a speech in the Parliament on the Expressway last week I pointed out more needs to be done including by-passes for Singleton and Muswellbrook and an appropriate remedy for Scone.

On 31 January, Australia Post lodged a notification with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to increase the basic postage rate (BPR) from 60 cents to 70 cents effective 31 March 2014.

The ACCC has released its decision to not object to this proposed increase. The proposed increase to the BPR is also subject to the Ministerial notification process, where the Shareholder Minister has 30 days to disapprove the proposed increase.

In addition to the proposed increase to the BPR on 31 March, there will also be increases to:
• Selected business letter services
• Personalised Stamps
• Selected domestic parcel products and services
• Mail redirection and mail hold services
• Selected packaging products

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released a new publication, A guide for business: Consumer product safety online, that outlines best practice tips for online sellers and marketplaces.

Australian consumers are increasingly looking to online stores to purchase consumer products but the online environment creates some unique product safety challenges and requirements that online suppliers need to be aware of. For example, while a consumer can quickly and easily check the mandatory ingredients list of a cosmetic product while in-store, they are unable to do this online unless the list is clearly displayed with the product information.

The ACCC is concerned that some online sellers, particularly those based overseas, may not be aware that all businesses supplying to Australian consumers have the same obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Businesses breach the ACL if they sell banned products, do not meet all requirements of mandatory product safety standards or fail in their obligations related to product liability, consumer guarantees and misleading and deceptive conduct.

Mandatory standards and bans are critical in preventing product-related deaths, injuries and illnesses. The ACCC regularly checks for non-compliant products being sold to Australian consumers, including via online stores. For example in 2013, ACCC surveillance identified two online businesses supplying banned small, high powered magnets to Australian consumers. Following negotiations with the ACCC, these suppliers stopped selling the magnets to Australians and conducted national product recalls.

Product recalls can be expensive for a business but the cost of a recall is not the only potential financial consequence to online businesses who supply unsafe products. Penalties can include infringement notices and the ACCC can seek court-imposed penalties of up to $1.1 million for serious breaches.
Compliance tips for online businesses include:
• clearly displaying warnings and product labelling
• using good quality product images
• providing clear product descriptions, including
o recommended usage
o age-grading for children’s products
• checking the requirements of Australian safety standards and bans prior to listing a product as available for sale.

Businesses must remember that the Australian Consumer Law applies regardless of whether products are sold in a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop, in an online store or via an online marketplace, and regardless of where the seller is based, I encourage all online suppliers to download a copy of the free report.
Businesses can find further information on product safety at

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