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On 4 April 2024, the Minister for Communications opened consultation on significant and comprehensive stage two reforms to the National Classification Scheme (“Scheme”). The Scheme is comprised of a number of laws and regulatory instruments – together, operating as a regulatory framework for classifying films, certain publications and computer games under cooperative arrangements between the Commonwealth, and the States and Territories. In addition, the Scheme directly underpins the online content scheme in Part 9 of the Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth) (“OSA” ) and informs elements of the broadcast television self-classification requirements in place under industry codes of practice under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).

On 12 March 2024, the Australian Government released exposure draft legislation on Buy Now, Pay Later products (“BNPLs”) for public consultation. This follows the Government’s previous consultation on the regulatory framework for BNPLs, and growing calls to regulate the BNPL industry in order that these products might have similar or the same protections that exist for consumer credit products in Australia.

On 26 March 2024, the Australian Senate resolved to establish the Select Committee on Adopting Artificial Intelligence (“Committee”) to inquire into and report on the opportunities and impacts arising out of the adoption of AI technologies in Australia.
The Committee’s inquiry provides an important opportunity for Australian companies to shape the future direction of Australia’s AI-related regulatory reforms as the Government continues to formulate its position on the regulation of AI.

On 10 April 2024, the Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers MP announced a major change to Australia’s merger control regime with the introduction of a new single mandatory, suspensory merger control system. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will be the key decision maker and given stronger powers to examine transactions, including serial acquisitions and mergers by businesses with substantial market power. The notification thresholds remain a critical unknown piece and will be subject to further consultation.

On 7 March 2024, the Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Gina Cass-Gottlieb, announced the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2024/25 and the market studies and advocacy work that the ACCC would continue this year.
Ms. Cass-Gottlieb identified a range of industry sectors, as well as specific competition and consumer law issues that will be the focus of the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement activities for 2024/25. Many of these areas continue from last year.

The Australian government has, after many years of deliberation, passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Foreign Bribery) Bill 2023 which introduces a new indictable corporate offence of failing to prevent foreign bribery.
This offence will apply where an associate of a company has committed bribery in relation to a foreign public official for the profit or gain of the company. The company will be liable unless it can establish that it has ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent the commission of bribery by its associates.

The transition from the Banking Executive Accountability Regime to the Financial Accountability Regime is due to take place on 15 March 2024 for the banking industry. Companies covered by the regime need to be aware of these changes and ensure relevant documentation, including relating to accountable persons and variable remuneration, is up to date.

The Federal Government passed the second tranche of the Closing Loopholes legislation this week, introducing key changes in respect of casual employees, independent contractors, gig economy workers, the trucking industry, and the right to disconnect.

On 13 February 2024, the Minister for Communications announced the Terms of Reference for the upcoming independent review into the operation of the Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth) (OSA). For more information about other recent developments in the Australian online safety roll-out.
The Review is required by section 239A of the OSA, and will examine the effectiveness of the OSA, and consider whether additional protections are needed to prevent the publication and spread of harmful online material.