Armed with knowledge of the ACCC's enforcement priority areas, companies can now take a more proactive approach to monitoring and enforcing compliance by focusing on these priority areas.

2012 has seen the ACCC increasingly focus on the priority areas identified by Rod Sims upon his appointment as ACCC Chairman in August 2011. The ACCC has committed itself to be strategic and take on more cases where the outcome may be less predictable; its enforcement actions commenced in 2012 reflect this mindset.

All the signs for 2013 point to more of the same: an ACCC that, having recently refocused its enforcement priorities, will take on cases not just to test the law but also where it believes that there is a policy position which it wishes to argue for.

The questions for business are simple: what are the ACCC's enforcement priorities for 2012/13 and, more importantly, are you in the ACCC's sights?

Looking back, looking forward

In October, we reported on the release of the ACCC's annual report, reflecting on the extent and tempo of regulatory action in the areas of product safety and consumer protection during the 2011/2012 financial year and providing a snapshot of some of the ACCC's more significant priorities and results in that period.

The results reported in the ACCC's annual report largely reflected the enforcement priorities that the ACCC set for itself for 2012.

The ACCC's enforcement actions in 2012 also reflect the ACCC's clear intent to put its money where its mouth is, a resolve that is set to continue into 2013 and beyond.

It is expected that the ACCC will devote more than half of its investigation and enforcement resources to its stated priority areas again in 2013.

This article outlines the priorities areas identified by the ACCC for 2012/2013. In the coming months, we will profile the ACCC's progress and initiatives in each of these respective areas.

ACCC objectives for 2012/2013

The ACCC has identified five high level objectives for 2012/2013:

  • make full use of the changes in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) concerning consumer related matters, such as misleading and deceptive, and unconscionable, conduct.
  • act against widespread consumer detriment with a particular focus on vulnerable consumers.
  • maintain or enhance competition in concentrated markets.
  • invigorate debate on the effective regulation of monopolies.
  • increase the ACCC's engagement internationally, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region.

Within these high-level objectives the ACCC has also articulated a number of very specific enforcement and compliance priorities over the medium-term, which include:

  • acting against conduct that impedes emerging competition in online trading;
  • acting on competition and consumer issues in highly concentrated sectors, in particular, supermarkets and fuel;
  • education and enforcement in relation to cartels;
  • ensuring carbon pricing representations are accurate and not misleading;
  • raising awareness of the ACL consumer guarantees regime; and
  • providing consumer protection that impacts positively on vulnerable consumers (including Indigenous consumers).

Why does this matter?

To companies operating in Australia, the ACCC's clear articulation of enforcement goals provides an insight into the ACCC's priorities that, before 2012, has not been available.

The ACCC will continue to actively pursue these goals and will bring enforcement actions when necessary: to protect Australian consumers and to send a clear message to businesses as to the importance of compliance with Australia's competition and consumer protection laws.

Armed with knowledge of the ACCC's enforcement priority areas, companies can now take a more proactive approach to monitoring and enforcing compliance by focusing on these priority areas.

Given there is a fine line between behaviour that represents robust market behaviour that benefits society, and conduct that breaches the law, in the current environment in Australia the risk of enforcement must be factored into decisions that come close to the line.

We will profile the ACCC's progress and initiatives in each of the priority areas identified above over the coming months – a must-read first step to ensure your business is not the next in the ACCC's sights…