Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

What if the ACCC covered political scams?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-10-14


I was looking at the "Government acting to combat scams" media statement (2009-10-13) from Craig Emerson and Brendan O’Connor.  (btw: One of them has a brain, the other I’m unconvinced by).

That statement points to the ScamWatch (www.scamwatch.gov.au) administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (www.accc.gov.au).  And I do like ScamWatch Radar.

So… I started looking at what the ACCC has to say about scams, and strangely enough, the machinations of politicians kept crossing my mind…

Let’s look at a few titbits… I’ll leave my sarcastic comments until later in the post.

What is misleading & deceptive conduct?

There is a very broad provision in the Trade Practices Act that prohibits conduct by a corporation that is misleading or deceptive, or would be likely to mislead or deceive you.  It makes no difference whether the business intended to mislead or deceive you – it is how the conduct of the business affected your thoughts and beliefs that matters.  If the overall impression left by an advertisement, promotion, quotation, statement or other representation made by a business creates a misleading impression in your mind – such as to the price, value or the quality of any goods and services – then the conduct is likely to breach the law.

Why do scams succeed?

Scams succeed because of two things.  Firstly, a scam looks like the real thing.  It appears to meet your need or desire.  (…)  Secondly, scammers manipulate you by ‘pushing your buttons’ to produce the automatic response they want.  It’s nothing to do with you personally it’s to do with the way individuals in society are wired up emotionally and socially.

False claims

As well as the broad provision of the Trade Practices Act that prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct in general (see above), there are also some specific provisions.
For example, the law also says businesses must not make false claims about:

  • the sponsorship, performance characteristics, accessories, benefits and uses of goods and services

Examples of misleading or deceptive conduct

Whether or not conduct is considered misleading or deceptive will depend on the particular circumstances of each case.  Conduct that misleads one group of consumers will not necessarily mislead every consumer.
Some examples of conduct that may be misleading or deceptive are:

  • a business predicting the health benefits of a therapeutic device or health product but having no proof that such benefits can be attained
  • a company misrepresenting the possible profits of a work-at-home scheme, or other business opportunity

Well, given that the ACCC would hardly be likely to misrepresent such things, I’d like to make a few points.

<tone sarcasm="on">Politicians never push buttons, and would never ever pay big bucks to find where your buttons are.  </tone>

Now, I’m no lawyer, and I haven’t read the gory details of the relevant legislation and regulations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are weasel-words, "get out of gaol free (pass go, collect $200M)", or other escape clauses that exclude political parties from the definition of "business", despite the vast sums flowing through their accounts, their ABNs, their large number of employees, the fact that some are landlords with squillions paid to them in rent… (walk like a duck, quack like a duck…)… and that the votes you hand over are redeemed for cold hard cash via the electoral commission a few years down the track.

But, it does seem to me odd if politicians and government agencies should be held less accountable and with lower ethical standards requirements than companies quietly seeking profit.

One of the interesting bits (see the "False Claims" section) is the requirement to disclose any sponsors of a particular good or service.  Imagine if a supermarket chain said "All the funds from companies sponsoring promotions or competitions have a single figure next to them in that book over there" and expect consumers to figure out the sponsors of a particular product.  No, the disclosure would have to be on a product-by-product basis.

So, is it good enough for politicians in government to point to a list of donors, and a list of lobbyists (especially as lobbyists could be representing any or many of a number of clients) to disclose the sponsorship of the products of government, the laws, the regulations, and amendments?  Shouldn’t they, like the hypothetical supermarket chain, be specific about what adjustments to the particular product (a bill or regulation) were made to satisfy a particular "sponsor"?

And, if you can, tell me how the analogies between the following pairs of statements are invalid (see the Examples of Misleading or Deceptive Conduct section) for the examples were merely examples:

  • a business predicting the health benefits of a therapeutic device or health product but having no proof that such benefits can be attained
  • a government or alternative government predicting the economic or social benefits of a policy instrument or program but having no proof that such benefits can be attained

or

  • a company misrepresenting the possible profits of a work-at-home scheme, or other business opportunity
  • a government or alternative government misrepresenting the possible benefits of a tax cut or other policy initiative

You could make many other analogies with items on the How to Protect Yourself page, such as "Remember there are no magic pills or safe options for rapid weight loss" (think rapid economic improvement), "Beware of products or schemes that claim to guarantee income or winnings" (yep, the "working families will be better off" thing), and "Never send money to anyone you are not totally sure about" (swapping "give votes" for "send money", because after all, votes ARE money come the next election time through the AEC… YOUR money).

Oh for a new Don Chipp, who might push to "keep the bastards honest" by including political parties and legislation under fair trading provisions!

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One Response to “What if the ACCC covered political scams?”

  1. […] While blogotariat was having problems with my news feed, many would have missed a post becoming more relevant by the day: "What if the ACCC covered political scams?" […]

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