Following Rod Sims’ speech in February this year on the ACCC’s priorities for 2013, the ACCC Chairman has again outlined the Commission’s priorities in a wide-ranging address to the Law Council of Australia. The ACCC’s motivations moving forward echo previous priorities outlined by Mr Sims, with emphasis on “strong enforcement”, infrastructure regulation and a “real world” approach to merger reviews.
The ACCC will continue to prioritise “strong enforcement” in the area of consumer protection. Mr Sims noted that over the past two years, the courts have ordered pecuniary penalties totalling almost $22 million and that more than $620,000 has been collected from infringement notices. Recent proceedings taken against Apple, Optus, Cotton On Kids and Harvey Norman were identified as particularly successful for the ACCC.
Mr Sims emphasised that the ACCC will continue to take complex cases to court where there is clarity to be gained. He said that the ACCC is “not attached to our win/loss ratio, and we won’t back away from the big companies for fear of losing”. Misleading discount claims in the energy sector will be an area of focus moving forward. Other areas of concern for the ACCC include credence claims in the food industry and issues with online shopping such as fake testimonials that have potential to mislead consumers and give an unfair advantage to businesses.
Regulation of infrastructure continues to remain an important role for the ACCC. Mr Sims outlined specific priorities for the ACCC in the communications, water, wheat ports and rail infrastructure sectors.
In the product safety area, which has been a “hive of activity” for the ACCC over the past year, there will be greater focus on chemical safety and consumer products.
Mr Sims also confirmed the ACCC’s approach to merger reviews since Metcash, stating:
“Our main focus will be on a real world understanding of market structure and import competition, entry barriers, countervailing power and the overall competition process. We will focus on commercial incentives and what drives companies operating in the real world…”.
In the competition area, Mr Sims noted that the ACCC had commenced five sets of proceedings in 2011/2012, as compared with only one during the year before.
For a transcript of the speech in full, click here.