In a clear move by the Federal Court to make an example of the consequences of false and misleading conduct to the business community, Energy Watch has been fined $1.95million, despite the fact that they will most likely not be able to pay the fine. The former chief officer, Ben Polis, who stepped down following a Facebook slurs controversy was personally fined $65,000.
In coming to the decision, Justice Marshall said that the public had been deceived “in a very serious way. The Australian people have been misled and deceived by the sharp business practices engaged in by Energy Watch and Mr Pollis and they would rightly expect that such conduct not be treated lightly by this court”. Justice Marshall also commented on the high level of public interest in energy prices, and the level of exposure that the advertising campaign of Energy Watch had in the media. According to Justice Marshall, the point of the decision was that “the penalty will serve as a warning to all business people who engage in energy brokering services, not to replicate the conduct recorded in declarations.”
Energy Watch had advertised its services as if it would be comparing the energy rates of all or many of the energy retailers when in fact it was only comparing prices of the 5 preferred retailers of Energy Watch, exaggerating the savings to the consumer, and with Energy Watch receiving payment from the preferred retailers when consumers switched to them.
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