The number of unsafe products recalled in Australia has tripled since 1998, with consumer advocates slamming product safety laws as “shamefully weak”.
On Friday, consumer advocates called on the federal government to toughen laws and stop unsafe products reaching Australian homes.
In a submission to Treasury, Choice and the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) condemned Australia’s product safety laws as “reactive”, “not fit for the future” and presenting an “unacceptable” level of consumer harm.
“When you buy a product in Australia, it should be safe. Our product safety system will continue to fail us until this concept is enshrined in the law,” the submission said.
There is currently no law prohibiting the sale of unsafe goods in Australia despite figures showing there are about 780 deaths and 52,000 injuries a year from consumer products nationally.
This amounts to a cost of at least $5 billion to the economy, including medical costs, lost wages and lost productivity.
Treasury is currently consulting stakeholders on “improving the effectiveness of the consumer product safety system”, but advocates have accused the government of dragging its feet.
In September, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar, the government MP responsible for consumer affairs, declined to meet the mothers of two toddlers who died after ingesting button batteries, despite a slew of politicians accepting meetings.
Choice and the CALC have been pushing for a general safety provision (GSP) to be incorporated in Australian Consumer Law for more than a decade.
“A proactive requirement for products to be safe, together with appropriate penalties for breaches, better aligns with international best practice and consumer expectations,” the consumer advocates’ submission to Treasury said.
There remains a persistent view among the community that products must be safe in order to be sold.’’
A survey by Choice found 93 per cent of Australians believe products sold in Australia are legally required to be safe.
“This view is entirely reasonable and the law should reflect it,” the submission said.
Choice product safety campaigner campaigner Amy Pereira said Australians had been let down by “successive governments” that have allowed unsafe products to “flood into our homes”.
“Product recalls have tripled since 1998 – that’s millions of unsafe products that should have been stopped before they got to shelves, now in people’s homes,” Ms Pereira said.
Businesses selling products in Australia have no general obligation to make sure the products they sell are safe.
“We need new laws that require basic and sensible safety checks for products before they make it into our homes.”
Millions of recalled products remain in circulation
Earlier this year, figures released by the consumer watchdog showed that millions of unsafe, recalled products are still in circulation in Australia.
A staggering 6.6 million individual products are under voluntary recall, with about half of these likely to be in homes.
Each year the consumer watchdog is notified of about 650 consumer product recalls, but only about half of affected products are returned to sellers.
An estimated one in four Australian households are exposed to potential hazards, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC has recommended the government strengthen the Australian Consumer Law by requiring businesses to comply with a “new safety duty”.
This would mean businesses would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure the products they sell are not unsafe.