Prime Minister John Howard has again shown his micro-management of government policy by his recent “I remain to be convinced” (code for rejected) edict on a proposal for a far-reaching Consumer Affairs policy review. Ironically, the last such review was when he was Minister for Consumer Affairs in the Fraser government.

The proposal was worked up by the new “Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Treasurer with responsibility for Consumer Affairs,” Chris Pearce. His junior status reflects the priority of the area for the government, the Ministry having been abolished by Howard in 1998 when consumer groups were also defunded.

Interestingly, the proposal had the full support of Treasurer Peter Costello.

The proposal contained 20-plus suggestions for review including an examination of Part V (Consumer protection) of the Trade Practices Act. This has not been seriously looked at since 1974, although other Parts dealing with competition are reviewed almost daily. The introduction of an “Unfair Terms” provision was also flagged, thus providing Australian consumers with a protection againt the oppressive one-way contracts of big corporations such as banks and Telcos. Such provisions already exist in the the UK and USA.

It is unlikely that the prime minister’s view will be changed as Costello is unlikely to take him on over this matter, although it does rather leave Chris Pearce with a “Clayton’s” role.

The chief advisory group to the government on Consumer Affairs, or the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council (CCAAC) as it is known, is unlikely to pursue the issue. Virtually invisible and chaired for many years by the “Bankers’ friend,” Banking Ombudsman Colin Neave, they carry no clout, their continuing existence simply representing tokenism toward consultation on consumer issues.

And where do the ALP stand on all this? Well the “shadow” is Laurie Ferguson. Enough said?