With the rapid rise of environmental consciousness in Australia and abroad, consumer-facing businesses are increasingly making claims about the environmental qualities of their products, services and business operations. While the ACCC has had guidance on the practice of “greenwashing” for some time, policing of environmental and sustainability claims has been a core area of focus for the ACCC in the last 12 months.
From 9 November 2023, the unfair terms regime will change so that significant penalties may apply for breaches of the UCT regime. As a result, businesses need to look again at their standard terms for unfair terms risks.
On 7 March 2023, the Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, announced the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2023/24 and the market studies and advocacy work that the ACCC would continue this year. Ms. Cass-Gottlieb identified a range of industry sectors, as well as specific competition and consumer law issues that will be the focus of the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement activities for 2023/24. Many of these areas continue from last year.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices) Act 2022 received royal assent on 9 November and is now in force. Maximum penalties for contraventions of the CCA and ACL have significantly increased, effective immediately, exposing business to very substantial risk. The need for robust policies, systems and training to ensure compliance with the legislation has never been more important.
On 28 September 2022, the Government introduced the Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices) Bill 2022. If passed, the Bill will: introduce a civil penalty regime prohibiting the use of and reliance on unfair contract terms in standard form contracts; increase the maximum penalties that may be awarded for breaches of the civil penalty provisions in Parts IV, IVBA, X and XICA of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (and under the Australian Consumer Law to the greater of AUD 50 million, if the court can determine the value of the benefit obtained — three times the value of that benefit, if the court cannot determine the value of the benefit obtained — 30% of the body corporate’s adjusted turnover during the breach turnover period for the offence, act or omission, and increase the maximum civil penalty for breaches by telecommunications providers of the Competition Rule, to up to AUD 71 million plus AUD 3 million for every day that a contravention continues in the most serious cases.
The ACCC has announced two internet sweeps to identify misleading environmental and sustainability marketing claims and fake or misleading online business reviews and a separate sweep to target fake or misleading online reviews and testimonials. The sweeps are being conducted as part of the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2022-23 announced earlier this year, with the broad aim of identifying deceptive advertising and marketing practices related to the environment and sustainability.
The Minister for Education announced on 21 September 2022 that the government has directed the ACCC to commence an inquiry into the costs of childcare, and in particular why childcare costs have increased significantly in recent years (the announcement states the increase has been 41% in the past eight years). The announcement follows the government’s stated commitment to a comprehensive plan for cheaper childcare and addressing rising costs of living as announced during the Federal Election.
Substantiating green claims, statements regarding price increases and minority interests in competing companies In brief The new ACCC Chair recently spoke at two competition law conferences, and described some of the key priorities for the ACCC for the year ahead. Key priorities include: issuing more substantiation notices (requiring a company to give…
On 18 August 2022, the Federal Government released for consultation the Treasury Laws Amendment (Competition and Consumer Reforms No. 1) Bill 2022: More competition, better prices. The exposure draft legislation seeks to significantly increase the maximum penalty per contravention to AUD 50+ million for corporations engaging in anti-competitive conduct (including, for example, cartel offences, misuse of market power, and exclusive dealing) under Part IV of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 as well as for contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law. Penalties for breach of competition and consumer laws in Australia have increased rapidly in recent years, particularly in the context of consumer law contraventions, which will have seen an almost 50 times increase in the maximum penalty per contravention over a five year period (if the draft legislation is passed).
In Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions v Citigroup Global Markets Australia Pty Ltd  FCA 511, the Federal Court has handed down an important decision which highlights the dilemma that may be faced by an immunity applicant in complying with its duty to provide full, frank and truthful disclosure and to co-operate under the ACCC’s Immunity and Cooperation Policy for Cartel Conduct (ACCC Policy) and maintaining legal professional privilege over witness accounts provided to solicitors at an early stage in an investigation.