Consumer watchdog wants more power to bust online ‘subscription traps’

“We are looking for an ability to protect consumers because of the unfair way in which the business process and practice takes place. In many jurisdictions, that general unfair trading practice prohibition is in place,” Cass-Gottlieb said.


The commission chair, who will address the National Press Club on Wednesday, said a general prohibition would allow the watchdog to move quickly as business practices and technology changed, rather than requiring a protracted law change each time.

In a speech last week, Competition Minister Andrew Leigh said the government was continuing work that began in 2020 on unfair practices, and noted the commission recommended an economy-wide ban on subscription traps in a 2022 report.

Leigh also pointed out that many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and Singapore, had banned unfair trading, and said the government was looking at overseas models and the commission’s recommendations to help shape Australia’s laws.

“Whatever path we take on this important area of consumer law, we know that competition depends on strong safeguards for Australian households and small businesses,” he told the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia summit.


“Consumer protections – and strong enforcement and compliance of them – improves consumer wellbeing.”

Cass-Gottlieb said the watchdog was also very concerned about exclusive dealing – where businesses with market power locked competitors out of supply.

Last year, the ACCC won a $12 million case against Peters Ice Cream after the company admitted to acquiring distribution services from PFD Food Services on the condition PFD would not distribute or sell any single-serve ice-creams from Peters’ competitors.

Cass-Gottlieb said the watchdog was closely monitoring the energy and telecommunications sectors for exclusive dealing.

“It had multiple effects down the supply chain, which is what we’re concerned about,” she said.

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