If you ever want to find out the priorities of government, just look to their media releases. The media releases illustrate the intentions of the departments, and also what gets the minister’s jollies off. Ministerial staff has traditionally looked for the things that are good news items to sell to the public to demonstrate that the government is looking after the constituents. Actions of government departments are used to mobilise popularity and thereby votes in the upcoming election.

Minister Matthew Kean has for some months been talking about “consumer interests”. He regularly uses the words “unscrupulous traders” and has discussed the imposition of greater standards in the marketplace.

One of his whipping ponies is the real estate industry. The real estate industry is often described as belonging to the three lowest echelons in society, alongside solicitors and motor dealers. Although real estate agents have never made it into the top 10 most complained about industries, Fair Trading and the media have used any real estate indiscretion as a point of reference. It always seems to be a winner!

In the latest media releases, Fair Trading published their visit to the Inner West of Sydney. They have previously done this in relation to other parts of Sydney. What is becoming increasingly clear is that investigators hold the power to issue on the spot fines through penalty infringement notices, and they are doing so like brown bombers walking down the street. If parking rangers are referred to as brown bombers, maybe it’s time to find a nickname for the Fair Trade Investigator.

Fair Trading have a number of disciplinary means:

  1. To issue penalty infringement notices;
  2. To prosecute breaches of legislation;
  3. To reprimand breaches;
  4. To suspend or disqualify licenses.

Whether we like it or not, penalty notices are a quick way of dispensing justice. It is also cheap and often efficient for the public servant. Prosecutions in court and disqualification of licences are time consuming. A penalty infringement notice is a quick way of punishing minor and technical breaches of legislation.

The Office of Fair Trading noted that they issued sixty-six thousand dollars worth of fines on the Inner West. This is a big increase from previous media releases about issuing fines. This new form of revenue raising will ultimately take hold. Remember, when it comes to budget time, if the investigation team can prove their worth in finds, they may retain and even increase their numbers.

Once upon a time we had only a few brown bombers on the streets. Now because of the revenue they raise, brown bombers are everywhere, and in force. Now the black bombers from Fair Trading are out there hustling and emptying out offices. And sooner or later they will be able to prove their worth in silver.

The new reforms are about better compliance. Fair Trading will use this better compliance regime to look, not only for issues of consumer detriment, but to punish you for minor and technical errors. It is now time to be serious about compliance!

This article was written by Bailey Compton, Principal Solicitor & Director at Leverage Group.

To get in touch with Bailey, please email info@leveragegroup.com.au