The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ("ACCC") has recently released its revised Compliance and Enforcement Policy, setting out the ACCC's agenda for 2013.
Its priorities come under four main headings.
2013 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities
A major focus for the ACCC this year is consumer protection, including:
- online consumer issues: in particular, online competition and targeting fake testimonials and reviews;
- telecommunications and energy: the ACCC will continue to prosecute misleading claims such as those by Apple and TPG, and increase regulation of door to door sales by energy retailers;
- consumer guarantees: increasing awareness of the new consumer guarantees, and prosecuting alleged misrepresentations about statutory warranties and guarantees such as those by Hewlett-Packard and Harvey Norman;
- credence claims: the ACCC is investigating premium claims made by producers that consumers cannot test or validate, in particular the food industry (such as 'free range').
Mergers and Acquisitions
The ACCC is currently revising the Informal Merger Process Guidelines which is likely to result in changes to processes.
In assessing mergers and acquisitions, the ACCC has announced that market concentration is a key consideration.
This year the ACCC will focus on acquisitions in the supermarket, liquor and hardware sectors by the major supermarket chains, and electricity generation (in light of potential privatisation in NSW and QLD).
The ACCC has outlined four regulatory areas of focus in 2013:
- Part IIIA: the Productivity Commission will conduct an inquiry into the National Access Scheme, which was designed to promote competition in markets which have natural monopoly characteristics (eg electricity, pipelines and railways);
- NBN: establishing the regulatory framework that will apply to the National Broadband Network via its Special Access Undertaking;
- electricity regulation: proposed establishment of a Consumer Challenge Panel within the Australian Energy Regulator which aims to represent consumer interests in regulatory decision making; and development of a national consumer advocacy body for energy policy and regulatory development;
- wheat code: following the amendments last year to the Wheat Export Marketing Act to deregulate the wheat export market, the ACCC is liaising with industry and government regarding the development of a mandatory industry Code of Conduct governing port access. The ACCC will be responsible for enforcing the Code.
This year, the ACCC will focus on anti-competitive and unconscionable conduct that seeks to exploit or unfairly constrains small businesses in the market place, including:
- Collective bargaining: the ACCC will continue to facilitate collective bargaining by suppliers;
- Supermarket code: proposals to develop an industry code to govern supply chain issues for the supermarket and grocery industry, (however, it is unlikely one will be implemented in the short term);
- Franchising Code review: the Government is currently reviewing the Franchising Code of Conduct, which is enforced by the ACCC.
Overall, the ACCC has set out an ambitious agenda for 2013, in line with its goals to:
- maintain and promote competition and remedy market failure, and
- protect the interests and safety of consumers and support fair trading in markets.