In brief

  • Rod Sims has today commenced his new role as chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), replacing Graeme Samuel.
  • Sims is an economist with experience in both the private and public sectors.
  • Sims has stated that regulation of the NBN will be a focus.
  • Sims intends to take a practical approach to the execution of new laws (including price signalling) and engage with both stakeholders and the media

Rod Sims’ background and experience

Sims is an eminent Australian economist who has a broad range of experience in business and economics in both the private and public sectors. He has particular expertise in the areas of infrastructure, access and pricing issues.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Sims held a number of senior government positions advising the Hawke/Keating Governments on economic and infrastructure policy. He was also the first chairman of the NSW Rail Infrastructure Corporation, chairman of the State Rail Authority, and a member of the panel that undertook the review of Australia’s energy policy for COAG in 2002.

Sims was most recently chairman of NSW’s Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and a councillor of the National Competition Council. Sims was also involved in the private sector as a director of Port Jackson Partners Limited—a corporate consulting firm. In this role he advised Australian businesses in a range of key industries (including construction, energy, mining, rail, telecommunications and media) on matters such as business strategy and infrastructure access.

On commencing as chairman of the ACCC, Sims will relinquish all pre-existing private and public sector roles.

Influence on the direction of the ACCC

While Sims’ influence on the ACCC will only become evident as he settles into his new role, his previous roles and recent public statements provide an indication of his possible style and focus as Chairman.

Free market approach

Consistent with his background, infrastructure ownership and regulation are likely to be a focus of Sims. Notwithstanding his previous Labour government links, Sims expressly favours a free market approach to infrastructure ownership, and has stated publicly that he would be ‘only too happy’ for the private sector to own more infrastructure.

Regardless of whether an asset is in public or private hands, Sims has made it clear that monopoly infrastructure assets must be regulated appropriately to open them up to competition. In particular, Sims has confirmed that the ACCC will have an important role in regulating the NBN, although it is not yet clear what the competition regime will involve. Sims has also emphasised the importance of conducting appropriate cost-benefit analyses for new major infrastructure assets like the NBN, when assessing proposed mergers and acquisitions, and when considering market activity more generally.

Understanding of ‘real world business’

Sims’ statements about these issues reflects his strong business background and suggests that, under his leadership, the ACCC may potentially be more sensitive to commercial and private sector considerations. Indeed, Sims says he is happy to be described as ‘pragmatic’, and believes that his understanding of ‘the real world of business’ coupled with his public policy background make him well suited to the role of Chairman of the ACCC. He has dismissed queries about his lack of legal experience, emphasising that the ACCC is Australia’s economic regulator and noting that there are already ‘a lot of lawyers inside the ACCC’.

Competition law reform

On the issue of competition law reform, Sims is seen as someone who will question the views of politicians. Indeed, he has previously been quite vocal about whether a government-backed NBN is the right way forward for Australia. However, Sims also recognises that it is the role of the ACCC to enforce the law, and the role of the government to make it. On the proposed price signalling laws, Sims has refrained from commenting on their merit, instead indicating that he will take a ‘practical approach’ to their execution.

Public communications role

Just like his predecessors, particularly Allan Fels, Sims has stated that he intends to maintain a high-profile public communications role for the ACCC. He has emphasised the importance of engaging with both the media and with stakeholders, describing communications with both as ‘absolutely fundamental’. This may signify a move towards greater transparency in the ACCC’s decision-making processes, which would be both welcomed and encouraged by those dealing with the ACCC.