There is a wide range of court cases underway, our merger review record is strong, and market studies are now a core part of our work, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said this evening at the Law Council of Australia’s workshop in Sydney.
With Australia’s first criminal cartel charges now before the court, Mr Sims said the ACCC wants to lay strong foundations for a continuing program of cases.
“We have ten to twelve in-depth criminal investigations and we are aiming for a steady stream of one to two criminal cases per year.”
“Hopefully, this will send a clearer signal on cartel conduct; there is too much of it occurring in Australia today to the considerable detriment of the Australian economy,” Mr Sims said.
In the broader area of competition and consumer law, Mr Sims said there are many important cases and appeals before the courts.
He named the Cement Australia penalty appeal, the secondary boycott allegations against the CFMEU, the Nurofen penalty appeal, the pending Flight Centre High Court decision and the unconscionable conduct allegations against Medibank Private Limited as some of the major cases.
In a year featuring many significant and challenging transactions, Mr Sims said the ACCC’s merger review record has been very pleasing.
Key transactions included the Qube/Brookfield acquisition of Asciano, Metcash’s acquisition of the Home Timber & Hardware Group, Iron Mountain’s acquisition of Recall Holdings, the undertakings given by Primary Health Care concerning its completed acquisition of Healthscope and TPG’s acquisition of iiNet.
The ACCC considered 319 mergers and conducted 31 public reviews during 2015/16.
“Significantly, and in accordance with our stated objectives, we cleared 90 per cent of mergers without the need for a public review. We believe we are getting the right balance in ensuring our focus is on the more complex or contentious end of the merger spectrum while non-contentious mergers are cleared expeditiously.”
As part of his annual address, Mr Sims said market studies are now part of ‘business as usual’ for the ACCC.
“We have had a very resource intensive market study into the east coast gas market, and we have had studies into petrol prices in Darwin and Launceston, with Armidale and Cairns to follow.
“We currently have market studies into the beef cattle sector…we also have an important market study underway in relation to motor vehicle retailing…this week, I announced a major market study into communications.”
Mr Sims said market studies are useful when concerns exist but there is no clear breach of the Competition and Consumer Act.
“It is not wise to imply, as some do, that where there is no clear breach, the market must always be working well. We think market studies can, in appropriate cases, be an important safety valve enabling the credible concerns of stakeholders to be examined.”
Mr Sims said market studies can also lead to policy recommendations, enforcement investigations and help identify whether other tools may address market ‘failures’ such as information asymmetry concerns.
The Chairman’s speech is available at https://www.accc.gov.au/speech/chairmans-address-to-the-law-council-workshop
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