Corruption Matters - May 2018 - Issue 51

The regulator and change: embracing the paradox

Valerie GriswoldValerie Griswold is the Executive Director of Fair Trading Operations at NSW Fair Trading. She will speak at the National Investigations Symposium in November about her role as one of the state’s consumer protection gatekeepers, and why collaboration among many and likeminded bodies is more important than ever.

Fair Trading’s vision is for a fair and competitive marketplace and informed consumers. “Our role is to use modern and effective strategies under the consumer law framework,” says Ms Griswold, who re-joined Fair Trading in 2015 after heading the policy and legal team at the Office of the Children’s Guardian. “And we should always be looking to other jurisdictions, centres for excellence, and so forth” to improve the way we address compliance and enforcement.

It is the role of Fair Trading to use this legal framework (in excess of over 50 parliamentary Acts!) in order to:

A complaint to Fair Trading is reported through the Engagements and Complaints Unit (ECU). If there is suggestion that a breach has occurred to any of the laws under its umbrella, the matter is sent to the Operations Assessments Unit. It is at this point in the process that the matter is reviewed to determine whether the matter will be escalated or closed. If escalated, the matter then goes to one of various teams, such as those under the investigations, consumer protection and enforcement units.

Fair Trading has extensive powers, which vary under different Acts, to support and enforce compliance. These include inspection powers, the power to compel production of documents, search warrant powers, and the appointment of managers, inquirers and liquidators to businesses in specific industries.

When it comes to the least compliant industries, the “biggest culprits are the motor, retail, real estate and home building industries”. Ms Griswold adds, “it may change as to which is the least compliant in any given year, but these are the big four”.

She cites misappropriation of trust funds (Property, Stock and Business Agents Act 2002) and unlicensed builders, defective work, failure to provide home warranty insurance and excessive deposits (Home Building Act 1989) as among the most common of breaches. Under the Motor Dealers and Repairers Act 2013, typical breaches include unlicensed motor dealers, repairers and recyclers, while under Australian Consumer Law 2010 it is false or misleading representations, failure to supply goods at a reasonable time and supplying goods covered by a ban.


Compliance and enforcement remedies (Source: NSW Fair Trading)

Ms Griswold is clear about the need to transform the way regulators work to embrace significant changes in the coming decade and beyond; changes such as “increased links with government, not-for-profit and private industry to get ahead of societal change”.

As society grows and resources shrink, she notes the need to develop artificial intelligence and other intelligence capabilities to address the changing landscape. She also predicts that higher levels of public and media scrutiny will act as drivers of transparency and accountability, and “the volatility of the political environment will require swift and agile responses from regulators”.

The road ahead is about reinvigorating the need “to build robust internal and external regulatory networks to eliminate silos and exploit co-regulatory partnerships”.

Identifying the issues facing regulators in an increasingly complex, authorising and operational environment will be the focus of Ms Griswold’s presentation at the National Investigation Symposium. The symposium on 14 and 15 November is a joint initiative of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, the NSW Ombudsman and the Institute of Public Administration Australia NSW.

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