Policy on Consumer Protection

Australians are having to sign contracts with companies on a daily basis. In practice, you can’t take the time to read the fine print, and you have to sign it and hope that it’s a good deal. It’s like having to swallow a pill that someone gave you at a night club. It would be much better if a law was made to set out the terms of these everyday contracts.

Mobile phone contracts are a case in point. People get unexpected bills for thousands of dollars. We will change the terms of mobile telephone contracts so that there is a fixed charge per month. For this charge, you will be able to receive unlimited incoming calls and make a limited number of outgoing calls. If you make more outgoing calls than your limit, you can either switch to a more expensive plan, or not make any calls for the rest of the month. On some plans, if you exceed the limit, rather than being barred from making outgoing calls, your outgoing calls will be limited to 5 minutes. Under no circumstances will you receive an unexpected bill.

As regards landline phones, all plans will include unlimited local calls. Once again, there will be a fixed charge per month. If you make more mobile and long distance calls than your limit, the system will prevent you from making more mobile or long distance calls, but you will still be able to make local calls. Also, if you reach your limit, you will be able to make more mobile and long distance calls by switching to a more expensive plan.

Insurance contracts are very unsatisfactory, and allow the insurance company to get out of having to pay your claim. There is what is called a “duty of disclosure”, where you have to disclose to the insurance company anything that you know that might lead to them not wanting to insure you. This could be almost anything. When you go to claim, they can say that you didn’t tell them this or that, so they don’t have to pay your claim. You should not have to disclose anything, but rather the burden should be on the insurance company to make inquiries about you before they insure you.

Insurance companies can draft the insurance contract so that things you imagined were covered are not covered. For example, their definition of flood might not include if a water main breaks outside your house and floods your house. Unless your contract is drafted by the government, you might end up not being covered and having paid tens of thousands of dollars in premiums for nothing.

Banks are the next best thing to a monopoly, and the public have to accept the terms that the banks lay down. We will modify those terms, and banks will not be able to charge fees for withdrawals from automatic teller machines or other transaction fees. The interest rate for your mortgage will be set by the government by regulation.

It is a good idea having a Financial Services Ombudsman that allows the public to sue banks and insurance companies, and that has the power to order banks and insurance companies to pay damages. The thing we don’t like about the Financial Services Ombudsman is that the organisation has been set up by the banks, and “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

We will legislate to turn the Federal Magistrates Service into an arbitration service having the power to arbitrate disputes between consumers and banks, insurance companies and telecommunications companies. The service will operate in a similar manner to the Financial Ombudsman Service, but the person you write to will be a magistrate.

One of the most unethical businesses there is are solicitors. Solicitors should have to give you a written quote before they do any work. The quote should be for a fixed amount, and not dependent on the amount of time they say it has taken them to do something. If the quote is for representing you in a court case, the quote should be for a fixed amount plus so much for every hour or day that your case is before the court.

Also, solicitors should be able to represent you on the basis that they get a share of the damages if they win. If they lose, you pay nothing. If they win, they get ¼ of the damages. Their share does not come out of your damages, but whoever you are suing has to pay your solicitors their share by way of punitive damages.

Senior barristers should continue to be called “Queen’s Counsels”. Coffee shop attendents should not be able to call themselves “baristas”, as this infringes the intellectual property of barristers. Barristers should be able to accept instructions from the public directly. Solicitors should be able to retain the title “Queen’s Counsel”. Anyone who has a law degree from a university in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada or the United States should be able to become a barrister or solicitor without needing any practical experience.

If any of our candidates are elected to the Australian Parliament, they will introduce a private member’s bill called the Financial Ombudsman Bill to give effect to the above reforms of the telecommunications, insurance and banking industries and the Federal Magistrates Court. If any of our candidates are elected to a State or territory parliament, they will introduce a private member’s bill called the Lawyers Bill to give effect to the above reforms to the legal racket.