The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforcement priorities for 2017 reveal that the national regulator will continue its enforcement focus on cartel conduct, anti-competitive practices, product safety and consumer issues. In addition, it will continue to focus on private health insurers and new car retailers in 2017, as well as devoting new resources to enforcement and compliance in the agricultural, commercial construction, broadband, airline and credit card sectors.
On 24 February 2017, the ACCC Chairman Rod Sims announced the ACCC's 2017 Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
The ACCC will continue to give priority to the investigation and enforcement of the law in the following key areas:
- cartel conduct causing detriment in Australia (see our publication, First criminal cartel prosecution in Australia);
- anti-competitive arrangements and practices;
- misuse of market power;
- product safety issues which have the potential to cause serious harm to consumers; and
- conduct which impacts vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers.
The ACCC regards the above areas to be `enduring priorities', as they are considered to be so detrimental to consumer welfare and the competitive process that the ACCC will always regard them as a priority.
The ACCC also tends to prioritise enforcement action in relation to the conduct of larger businesses. The rationale for this is two-fold: the actions of big businesses have the potential for greater consumer detriment; and the conduct of big businesses can influence the behaviour of other market participants.
This year, Rod Sims noted that the ACCC's chosen compliance and enforcement priorities respond to new legislation, as well as areas the ACCC considers to be of current community concern. In particular, the ACCC's priorities for 2017, and how this may impact your business, are set out below:
Additionally and on the back of recent Federal Court decisions in Australia heralding the Court's willingness to award higher penalties, Mr Sims has specifically stated that the ACCC will be seeking higher penalties to be paid by large businesses, which might impact the Commission's approach to agreed settlements going forward.
It is important that businesses operating in the industries the subject of the ACCC's enduring and new enforcement priorities review their business operations to ensure they are compliant with the requirements of the competition and consumer laws of Australia.