Companies must act on reconciliation: ACCC

Maeve BannisterAAP
Reconciliation Australia became aware of a $50 million penalty imposed on Telstra via the media.
Camera IconReconciliation Australia became aware of a $50 million penalty imposed on Telstra via the media. Credit: AAP

Australia's peak body for Indigenous reconciliation has revealed Telstra failed to inform them about the unconscionable conduct investigation undertaken by the consumer watchdog into its sales practices.

Reconciliation Australia representatives told parliament's Indigenous affairs committee they first became aware of the $50 million penalty imposed on Telstra via the media.

In November 2020 Telstra admitted to breaking the law and using unfair tactics to sell post-paid mobile services to 108 Indigenous customers who couldn't afford contracts.

Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine told the committee they had expected Telstra to be "open and honest" especially since the company had been considered a leader in reconciliation through their Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan.

"We decided both the actions of Telstra through the complaint process and their failure to engage with us did not meet the expectations of the Elevate RAP and so it was disendorsed," she said.

It is only the second time Reconciliation Australia has taken such strong action to disendorse an organisation.

In a submission to the committee, the consumer watchdog said RAPs can help drive positive business practices but the Telstra case reinforced the need for the corporate sector to listen to and understand consumers.

"The Telstra example shows just because a company has a RAP, it doesn't mean there is a benefit for Indigenous consumers," ACCC consumer and compliance general manager Richard Fleming told the committee.

"It needs to be put into action."

The consumer watchdog is seeking to stamp out dodgy door-to-door selling practices in remote Indigenous communities.

The commission said the unsolicited sales of goods and services - particularly door to door sales - has led to extremely poor outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Director Michael Dowers told the committee after the launch of an ACCC program empowering Indigenous communities to know their consumer rights there was a "significant reduction" in the number of businesses visiting those communities.

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