Beliefs in markets and consumer protection guide the ACCC’s investigations and enforcement actions
At an event hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia in Sydney on Tuesday, Rod Sims, Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), announced the ACCC’s enforcement priorities for 2020. In opening, Mr Sims stressed that the ACCC’s approach is informed by its belief in markets, but that it will intervene as necessary where it considers that markets are not effective or consumers may be harmed.
In particular, Mr Sims noted that the ACCC will continue to prioritise actions to prevent cartels, anti-competitive conduct and misleading and deceptive conduct, noting that such conduct causes the most detriment to consumers and that there are commercial incentives for businesses to engage in this conduct.
Mr Sims announced that the ACCC plans to bring at least two more cartel cases before the courts this year, and at least four competition cases.
The ACCC’s enforcement priorities for 2020 are:
Unsurprisingly, addressing consumer and competition law concerns in relation to digital platforms is a continuing priority for the ACCC this year, following the release of the ACCC’s report in mid-2019.
Mr Sims also spoke about the ACCC’s continued advocacy in relation to a general prohibition on ‘unfair practices’, and noted that such a prohibition could be used to take action against platforms that merely host or publish content that breaches consumer law.
The new Digital Platforms branch of the ACCC was also flagged as a means by which the ACCC can acquire and utilise the necessary expertise to respond to and enforce contraventions in the unique and fast-changing digital space. Mr Sims stated that the ACCC hopes to be a proactive regulator in this space, and intends to work closely with international regulators in taking action against digital platforms. For multinational companies, this indicates a need to carefully consider responding to regulator inquiries and investigations on a globally consistent basis, as it can be expected that regulators will share information about investigation and enforcement actions.
Energy and telecommunications
Misleading conduct in food marketing
Commercial construction industry
Small business and franchising
Funeral services sector
Mr Sims announced an intention to take more actions in relation to the ‘concentrated’ funeral sector, in particular in relation to lack of price transparency, misleading and deceptive conduct, hidden fees, unfair contracts and unconscionable conduct. He noted that contravening conduct in this industry is particularly harmful as it impacts customers at a vulnerable time in their lives. This priority mirrors calls for further regulation of the funeral insurance industry, particularly that which is targeted at Indigenous Australians, following the Hayne Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services.
Thank you to senior associate, Edwina Tidmarsh and general associate, Holly Ritson for their help in preparing the alert.