Australian authority pushes for record penalties

A court has questioned the adequacy of a proposed AUD 76 million penalty in a recent consumer protection case.

The ACCC continues to push for higher penalties. A court has strongly questioned the adequacy of a proposed penalty of AUD 76 million submitted by the ACCC following settlement negotiations.

It is unclear whether the court will impose a higher penalty than that agreed by the parties, which is nearly three times the largest penalty for breaches of consumer law to date.

The court's comments may embolden the ACCC to seek higher penalties and negotiated settlements, in the future.

 

First criminal cartel charges launched against individuals

Recent cases show a trend towards greater cooperation between the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) and the ACCC on criminal cartel matters.

Following the commencement of cartel proceedings a few months ago by the ACCC against a multinational company and its former GM, the CDPP then launched unprecedented criminal proceedings against the individual for inciting obstruction in the course of the ACCC proceedings.

The CDPP also laid fresh charges against Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS in relation to the global shipping cartel Kawasaki Kisen Kaisa and ordered a criminal penalty of AUD 34.5 million.

The CDPP also laid fresh charges against Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS in relation to the global shipping cartel involving Kawasaki Kisen Kaisa (K-Line) and ordered a criminal penalty of AUD 34.5 million.

The ACCC and the Australian Federal Police jointly investigated an alleged forex price fixing cartel, after which the CDPP laid criminal charges against a money transfer business and five individuals.

 

ACCC faces court challenge for opposing telecommunications merger

Two telecommunications companies have sought to overturn the ACCC's opposition to their AUD 15 billion proposed merger.

In a hearing that concluded in September 2019, TPG and Vodafone sought to overturn the ACCC's decision earlier in the year to oppose the proposed merger. Judgment is not expected until early 2020.

Concurrently, AP Eagers, a major retailer of vehicles, obtained the first authorisation under the ACCC's new merger authorisation regime for its off-market takeover bid for Automotive Holdings Group. The authorisation required a divestiture undertaking for certain assets to address competition concerns in regional markets.

The ACCC can approve a merger if satisfied that the acquisition would not substantially lessen competition or where public benefits outweigh the detriments.

 

Calls for more ACCC powers and closer scrutiny of digital platforms

The Australian Government has announced that it will adopt the ACCC's key recommendations from its final report on the digital platforms inquiry.

The ACCC released its final report earlier this year setting out the findings and outcomes. The report contained 23 recommendations across competition law, consumer protection, media regulation and privacy law. In particular, the report specifically highlighted ACCC’s concerns around the impact of digital platforms on news media, online advertising and data-driven markets. The ACCC recommended additional funding, greater power for regulators, higher levels of scrutiny and more stringent reporting requirements for digital platforms.