Unconscionable Conduct in Australian Consumer and Commercial Contracts


As consumers and businesses navigate the Australian marketplace, contracts play a crucial role in specifying terms and conditions of sales, purchases, and other transactions. While many contracts are fair and equitable, some contain provisions that can be considered unconscionable. Such provisions exploit a power imbalance between parties, deceive or mislead the other party, or demand exaggerated or unfair payments. This article explores the nature of unconscionable conduct in Australian consumer and commercial contracts, and the legal framework that governs it.

What is unconscionable conduct?

Unconscionable conduct refers to a range of practices that are deemed unfair, unreasonable, or unjust by a court of law. Such conduct can occur in various contexts, including sales, lending, leasing, employment, and professional services. In essence, it involves one party taking advantage of the other party`s vulnerability, ignorance, or dependence to secure an advantage or benefit that is disproportionate or inappropriate.

Examples of unconscionable conduct in contracts include:

– Undue influence: a party exerting pressure or coercion on another party to enter into a contract that they would not otherwise agree to, or that is not in their interests.

– Unfair terms: contractual clauses that are one-sided, ambiguous, or opaque, and that disadvantage or limit the rights of the other party without justification.

– Deceptive or misleading conduct: false or misleading representations made by one party about the nature, quality, or value of goods or services, or about the terms or effects of a contract.

– Excessive pricing: prices charged by one party for goods or services that are unreasonably high, or that bear no relation to their actual cost or value.

Unconscionable conduct can be committed by either a supplier or a consumer, and can involve actions or omissions. However, it is often associated with businesses that hold a dominant market position, or that deal with individuals or small businesses who lack bargaining power or access to information.

Legal framework

Under Australian law, unconscionable conduct is prohibited in both consumer and commercial contracts by various statutes and case law. The main legislation that deals with unconscionable conduct is the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which is part of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). The ACL sets out a range of provisions that aim to protect consumers from unfair business practices, including:

– Section 20: prohibits unconscionable conduct in consumer transactions, and provides a non-exhaustive list of factors that may be considered to determine whether conduct is unconscionable.

– Section 21: prohibits unconscionable conduct in business-to-business transactions, and applies a broader test that takes into account all the circumstances of the case.

– Section 22: provides for remedies for consumers and small businesses that have suffered loss or damage as a result of unconscionable conduct, including damages, injunctions, and compensation orders.

In addition to the ACL, other legislation may also apply to unconscionable conduct in specific industries or contexts, such as the National Credit Code (NCC), the Telecommunications Act 1997, and the Franchising Code of Conduct. Moreover, courts have developed a common law doctrine of unconscionability that applies to contracts that are not covered by statute, or where the statutory regime is inadequate to deal with the particular circumstances.


Unconscionable conduct in Australian consumer and commercial contracts is a serious issue that can harm individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole. It undermines the principles of fairness, honesty, and transparency that are essential to a well-functioning market and a vibrant society. By understanding the nature of unconscionable conduct and the legal framework that governs it, consumers and businesses can protect themselves from unfair contracts and seek redress when necessary. As a copy editor, it is important to ensure that any written contract is transparent, fair, and free from any clause that may be considered unconscionable under the law.

Fashion Desk

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