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Greater consumer protection welcomed - Anderton

Hon. Jim Anderton
3 April 2001 Speech Notes

Greater consumer protection welcomed


Launch of the eMarketing Standards Authority
Beehive Foyer

It's my pleasure to be here tonight as the Acting Minister of Consumer Affairs.

One thing that defines all of us today is that we are consumers.

As a society New Zealanders come from a variety of different backgrounds, we have different interests, have a range of political views and ideas.

But we are all consumers.

And increasingly we judge the performance of government and of our country from the point of view of a consumer. Our view of the economy is based on things like the price and availability of goods, and how well our rights have been safeguarded.

In many respects politics has become a consumer choice with voters more likely to shop with their votes than stay loyal to one party all their lives.

Markets are changing. The way people buy things is changing.

Government has always had to protect citizens from rip-offs and bad commercial practice.

One issue which this government has investigated is banking practise.

Bankline, an 0800 service set up by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, found that many consumers think that bank fees are excessive and banks don't give consumers enough information about the fees they impose.

Consumers want a clearer explanation of how bank fees reflect costs. They want itemised fees on bank statements. They want specific fees for transactions to be fully disclosed before the transaction, including overdraft honour fees and fees for using another bank’s ATM.
Bankline received 1358 calls, with the majority about fees and service.

The report compiled by the Ministry was able to recommend that banks could provide the option of having bank fees deducted as they are incurred, itemising fees on statements, and provide more information on how fees are charged.

And of course this Government has acted to introduce greater competition in banking by moving to establish a kiwi bank through NZ Post.

This will offer cheaper services, have more branches and profits will stay in New Zealand.

Another consumer issue has been small loan companies. This Labour Alliance Coalition Government is speeding up our review of credit law. We announced the review last year, but I have asked for an earlier reporting time, to get a paper to Cabinet considered by mid year.

Over the years I have had a number of constituents come to see me over loan sharks and their practices.

There are people in our society who have no moral or ethical problems preying on the most vulnerable members of our community.

Recently the Ministry of Consumer Affairs took the unusual step of naming two companies who were taking their customers ATM cards and PIN numbers. They were able to take people's benefits from their bank accounts.

Although this is technically not against the law it might fall under the provisions of current legislation as 'oppressive'.

One of the companies, Funaki Enterprises, targeting Tongan people in Wellington and Auckland, also took photos of its customers and published them in the local Tongan newspaper if they defaulted.

In the newspaper they indicated the village and family the person came from.

And on top of this there were examples of 240 per cent interest being charged.

This is not acceptable.
Government exists to ensure the rights of its citizens are safeguarded.

And as retailing changes we need to be able to offer advice to people taking up new ways of trading, both retailers and consumers.

The Government's e-commerce strategy sets out to develop consumer confidence by addressing security, privacy and consumer protection concerns.
To do this we need to be prepared to find ways to stop a small number of dodgy dealers who are intent on ripping off other people, whether they are operating out of a car dealers yard, a shop front or on the internet.

Two weeks ago the Ministry of Consumer Affairs released the results of a sweep of New Zealand web sites.

The sweep was part of an international analysis covering 19 OECD countries and covered 66 web sites.
There was a diverse range of goods being sold by these New Zealand websites including travel, food, wine, books, CDs, clothes and souvenirs.

What was of a concern was that only half the sites had information on returns or refunds. Over a third didn't provide a physical address.

Seventeen percent of NZ web retailers didn't list the costs of postage and packaging separately, something that most customers would expect.

Only half had a privacy policy and a staggering 86 per cent had no protections for children such as a requirement for parent or guardian approval or an age restriction requirement.

This is a problem in a country of early adapters and high internet use.

And a problem if our businesses operating on the internet want to gain confidence of consumers here and overseas.

From this sweep New Zealand was somewhere in the middle of the list of countries for good consumer practice.

I said then I think New Zealand retailers should be doing better.

To their credit some of the web retailers were happy to make changes when the issues were pointed out to them.

But the improvement in standards is essential. Government cannot do this alone. It requires partnerships and industry involvement.

A huge majority of retailers and marketers are honest people who want to safeguard consumer rights.

This is being demonstrated today with the launch of the eMarketing Standards Authority.

I congratulate the Direct Marketing Association and the Advertising Standards Authority for this initiative. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has provided support and will work to promote this new Authority where appropriate.
This initiative is a step in the right direction. It promotes industry and government partnerships, self-regulation and the protection of consumer rights.

The new Authority starts with a code and standards applicable to members of both the DMA and the Advertising Standards Authority.

This code is drafted by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and is based on international guidelines.
The new Authority will promote and advertise the code and complaints procedures and educate industry.

Complaints can be passed by the eMarketing Standards Authority to the organisation which can resolve them.

E-commerce is here to stay.

The Dominion quoting from a report of the NZIDC said that last year kiwis spent 242 million dollars on internet shopping and estimates are that this will grow to 2.7 billion dollars on personal and business transactions by 2004.

This new eMarketing Standards Authority is an important step in developing the growing e-commerce industry.

It involves the industry and government.

It will educate business.

And it will protect consumers.

I welcome its creation and look forward to seeing it succeed.

Thank you for inviting me here today.


…Ends.

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