Focus on ag conduct

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairmanRod Sims says enforcement teams are honing in on misleading and deceptive practices, anti-competitive conduct and unfair contractsaffecting farm sector small businesses​.
Nanjing Night Net

Addressing a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event in Sydney, Mr Sims launched the ACCC’s 2017 Compliance and Enforcement policy.

It details the industries and issues the competition and consumer regulator will focus on in the year ahead.

He said clear priorities would be unfair contract terms, cartels, and misconduct in the agriculture, health and construction sectors.

The ACCC has about 65 investigators in each of its competition and consumer enforcement teams, about 40 consumer product safety experts, and 15 working on compliance education for consumer and small business.

The ACCC prioritises and considers about 500 of the approximately 200,000 reports of potential breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act it receives annually from consumers and businesses. This in turn leads to court action around 30 times a year.

“The ACCC does a lot of educating and working with businesses, large and small, on compliance with laws which are set up to ensure the market economy runs as it should, to the benefit of living standards and household budgets,” Mr Sims said.

“Education plays an important role in compliance, but sometimes we need to send a stronger message to businesses.

“Court action not only helps to sharpen businesses’ focus on what is and isn’t acceptable under the law, but acts as a deterrent to others that may be tempted in a race to the bottom.”

“We will have a big focus on unfair contracts in 2017 following the introduction of new laws to protect small business in 2016.

“What that means is that large companies can no longer have unilateral terms in their standard contracts that put small businesses at a significant disadvantage.”

Mr Sims says cartel conduct is another area in which significant penalties, including prison sentences, can be used as a deterrent.

“Last year, ACCC investigations led to two criminal cartel charges and we have advanced investigations into other alleged cartels.

“Unfortunately, I fear that only gaol sentences for individuals in prominent companies will help to send the appropriate deterrence messages that cartels seriously damage competition and the economy as a whole,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said particular areas of enforcement for 2017 would be the health and energy sectors. The ACCC says concerns about anti-competitive conduct have led to the establishment of a new commercial construction investigation unit.

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