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Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announces priorities for 2016

March 02, 2016


Partners Anne Callinan

Competition law (inc cartels)

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announces priorities for 2016 - cartels, consumer protection, agriculture and the health sector under the spotlight

Last week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced its compliance and enforcement priorities for 2016.

The ACCC's priorities will be relevant to any New Zealand business which operates on both sides of the Tasman. In addition, given the legal and economic similarities between New Zealand and Australia, the issues identified by the ACCC are something the New Zealand Commerce Commission is likely to consider when setting its own competition and consumer law agenda for its 2016/2017 Statement of Performance Expectations (which is due to be released in June).

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims highlighted cartel conduct and anti-competitive conduct and practices as enforcement priorities with respect to competition law. Mr Sims said the ACCC will also continue to take a strong line against misuse of market power  "where we can". We note that that prohibition was the subject of a December 2015 discussions paper, Options to Strengthen the Misuse of Market Power law.

Mr Sims expressed a view that the ACCC has not done enough competition advocacy or market studies in the past. He noted that competition and consumer issues in the agriculture sector will be a primary focus for ACCC market studies going forward.

In consumer law, the ACCC announced that Indigenous consumer protection has become an enduring priority for the ACCC, recognising the particular challenges facing Indigenous consumers when attempting to assert their rights. The ACCC will also continue to prioritise initiatives to protect older consumers and consumers who are newly arrived in Australia.

Mr Sims promised a crackdown on representations made about extended warranties by larger businesses.

The vehicles industry has also become a focus, with the ongoing investigation into VW diesel emissions and an investigation into Fiat Chrysler. Mr Sims announced that the ACCC is calling on vehicle manufacturers and new car retailers to invest in aftersales care.

Consumer safety continues to be a priority, with the ACCC Chairman highlighting product safety dangers associated with button batteries, quad bikes, and Infinity cables.

In addition, the health and medical sector have attracted the scrutiny of the ACCC. The Chairman foreshadowed that the ACCC will take action against healthcare sector providers for failure to ensure that their disclosure practices are in line with Australian Consumer Law. Mr Sims also noted that the ACCC had "well-advanced investigations" into misleading health claims in relation to certain health products.

In terms of ongoing work to protect small firms, Mr Sims highlighted new laws protecting small businesses from unfair terms in standard form contracts, and industry codes of conduct, for example in the supermarket industry.