Criminal cartels, consumer guarantees and product safety remain at the top of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) priority list for 2018.
The ACCC has now released its enforcement and compliance priorities for 2018. Below is a brief summary of the key highlights. Cartel prosecutions will continue to be an area of focus Cartel prosecutions will be squarely in focus during 2018, with the ACCC noting that it has five current referrals with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and a number of investigations that are at an advanced stage. The following cases are expected to be heard this year:
- criminal proceedings against Japanese shipping company K-Line for alleged cartel conduct concerning the shipping of cars, trucks and buses into Australia;
- criminal proceedings against Country Care Group, its Managing Director and a former employee for alleged cartel conduct involving assistive technology products used in rehabilitation and aged care. This is the first time that individuals have been prosecuted under the Australian criminal cartel provisions;
- proceedings against four companies and three individuals for alleged cartel conduct in relation to the supply of polycarbonate roof sheeting to retailers in Australia; and
- the ACCC's appeal in its case against PZ Cussons for alleged cartel and anti-competitive conduct involving the supply of ultra-concentrated laundry detergent.
The ACCC is also awaiting judgment on its appeal in respect of misuse of market power and exclusive dealing proceedings brought against Pfizer in relation to the supply of atorvastatin to pharmacies. Anti-competitive conduct: industry priorities The ACCC said that anti-competitive conduct in the construction, financial services, agriculture and energy sectors will be under scrutiny in 2018. On 16 November 2017, the ACCC announced the establishment of a Data Analytics Unit to help identify and enforce competition laws in relation to the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in price-fixing. This new unit will work with the ACCC's investigation teams and economists and is expected to be deployed in a number of market studies across different industry sectors. Consumer protection The ACCC announced that it will also focus on:
- consumer issues in the automotive industry, following the release of its new car retailing study in late 2017 and its ongoing investigation into the Takata airbags recall;
- consumer issues in the provision of broadband services, including addressing misleading speed claims and statements made during the transition to the NBN;
- competition and consumer issues arising out of the use of digital platforms, with a focus on concerns arising out of its current digital platforms inquiry; and
- product safety, including for consumers in the online marketplace.
The ACCC's proceedings against NIB Health Funds and its appeal in the case against Medibank Private (both of which involve allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct and unconscionable conduct) are expected to be heard this year. The ACCC is also appealing the Federal Court's decision in proceedings against LG Electronics for alleged misleading representations made to certain consumers about their right to a repair, replacement or refund for faulty televisions.