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Slam carbon scams

By Michael Kile - posted Thursday, 2 August 2012

“Businesses that set out to dupe consumers [about the carbon price] - and to do it deliberately - are firmly in our sights. They're the ones we'll be putting our energy on”, said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission acting chairman, Dr Michael Schaper on ABC’s Radio National on 4 July 2012.

The nation entered the House of Count Carbon last month. Fear not, the Australasian Consumer Fraud Task Force is only a telephone call away. Persons, companies or counts trying to take you for a “carbon” ride will be asking for trouble.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) SCAMwatch website lists the usual suspects: credit card scams, pyramid scams, miracle cures, “unexpected” prizes, upfront payment scams, charity scams, romance scams, psychic and clairvoyant scams. A new one recently joined the list. We are urged to be “on the look-out for carbon [dioxide] price scams”.


Businesses should know their rights and obligationswhen making claims about carbon (dioxide) price impacts. Misleading, deceptive or false claims are prohibited under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). Conduct likely to create a misleading impression is verboten too, and failure to disclose relevant information.

It is also an offenceto make representations about “a future matter with no reasonable grounds for making it.” An offer of guaranteed winnings can be misleading too, “as it is not possible to predict accurately the outcome of an event based on chance.” Political promises - such as delivering a “cleaner, smarter, richer future” – seem to be in an exempt category.

Two cases were recently in the news. The head of one of Australia's largest bakery chains, Brumby’s Bakery, quit after suggesting in a company newsletter that franchisees could increase prices and "let the carbon tax take the blame".

In the second case, the ACCC took action against related companies, Polaris Solar and ACT Renewable Energy, over leaflets promoting solar panels distributed to households in Canberra and W.A. Based on data in a newspaper advertisement produced by The Australian Trade and Industry Alliance (ATI), they claimed the carbon (dioxide) price would increase annual electricity costs by 20 per cent and, if continued, by 400 per cent by 2019.

ATI’s other text escaped criticism, presumably because it was not about pricing: “The Government is hitting Australians with the world’s biggest carbon tax, which will hurt the long-term future of Australian families, businesses and exports, but achieve no environmental benefit. They must get carbon policy right, before it’s too late.”

Both companies promised not to engage in similar conduct and to attend practical training on consumer laws. “They co-operated with us fully,” said Dr Schaper, “and we don’t see any evidence of consumers having lost money.”


There are, however, bigger buns in the national carbon (dioxide) oven than what Brumby’s Bakery later admitted were “foolish and ill-considered remarks”.

What is the ACCC’s role?

The ACCC focuses on “carbon price scams”. It does not concern itself with the veracity of statements about allegedly “dangerous” climate change, even if made by related parties or groups with a financial incentive to promote certain policy outcomes; nor with the misleading images of “carbon pollution” that have proliferated in cyber-space.

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Disclosure Statement: Michael Kile does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. He has no relevant affiliations, except as author of the Devil's Dictionary of Climate Change. He does not trade, or intend to trade, carbon units, Australian carbon credit units or eligible international emissions units.

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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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