On 24 February 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced its Enforcement and Compliance Policy for 2017. 

What you need to know

There are no real surprises in the ACCC’s priorities for 2017.

  • The ACCC will continue to seek higher penalties through the courts and for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), through legislative reform.
  • Criminal cartels including jail terms for individuals from prominent companies will continue to be at the top of the ACCC’s agenda.
  • Anti-competitive conduct in the health, energy, construction and agricultural sectors will attract more attention this year as will price parity clauses following the High Court decision in Flight Centre.
  • The ACCC will vigorously enforce recently enacted ACLs, namely the unfair terms regime for small business contracts, new country of origin labelling laws and the new excessive card payment surcharges prohibition.
  • ACL enforcement will also target conduct in:
    • the new car retailing industry and the private health insurance industry
    • broadband speed claims and health claims on children’s food
    • conduct related to sales commissions
    • conduct engaged in by large companies
    • product safety issues
    • misleading conduct about consumer rights and remedies

In outlining its compliance and enforcement priorities for 2017, the ACCC has expressly acknowledged that consumer advocacy group, CHOICE, has played a significant role in drawing ACL matters to the ACCC’s attention, many of which have resulted in ACCC prosecutions.

What you need to do now

You should review and update your competition and consumer law compliance program now or at the very least after the Harper Reforms come into effect later this year.

In particular:

  • You should ensure all of your key pricing and strategy executives and managers are fully aware of their obligations under competition law.
  • You should review and seek advice on any price parity clauses in your agreements.
  • If you make country of origin claims on your labelling, you should immediately ensure they comply with the new laws. You should also review any surcharges you charge for card payments to ensure they comply with the new payment surcharge laws.
  • You should keep an eye out for your company being named by CHOICE as this can result in an ACCC investigation.