The decision by South Australia’s consumer watchdog to pursue in the Supreme Court an Adelaide travel agency that allegedly left customers stranded and then failed to repay them, may provide an opportunity to observe the effectiveness of Australian Consumer Law.
The South Australian action was detailed yesterday: Court grants interim injunction against travel agent
The company involved in the case, Olympia Express Tourist and Travel Office, also known as Olympia Express Travel Services, appears still to be trading. That has allowed South Australia’s Consumer and Business Services (CBS) to apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction with the intent of securing customer redress and applying other penalties under Australian Consumer Law, if warranted.
If Olympia Express Travel Services is still trading, it is presumably solvent. Therefore, assuming Olympia Express Travel Services remains operational, the matter may give an opportunity to observe the effectiveness of Australian Consumer Law.
In its “Submission to Draft Travel Industry Transition Plan” – the process which resulted in the dismantling of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) and implementation of ATAS – the consumer advocacy group CHOICE stated on 3 October 2012:
“The proposition that consumers could use the ACL or other laws to pursue company directors and/or auditors for claims arising from the collapse of a travel agent is unrealistic.
“Insolvency actions are complex and expensive to run. Evidence gathering is costly. The cost of expert evidence alone would exceed the cost of the vast bulk of consumer claims. The financial resources of consumers cannot match the deep pockets of professional indemnity insurers.”
In this case, South Australia’s CBS is acting on behalf of consumers. CBS ensures that laws affecting consumers, traders and businesses in South Australia are fairly and effectively administered. There is no suggestion Olympia Express Tourist and Travel Office, also known as Olympia Express Travel Services, has collapsed or is about to collapse. It will be an interesting one to watch.
Consumer Affairs Commissioner Dini Soulio told ABC News on Christmas Eve that the people behind the company had already started to pay consumers.
“They’ve commenced to pay the consumers back at this stage so that’s a pleasing result for those people.
“But it doesn’t make up for the stress they have suffered.
“It’s a message for people to shop around, do your research on references and feedback on the people that you’re dealing with,” he told the ABC.
Written by Peter Needham