The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Actrol Parts Pty Ltd (Actrol), a wholesaler of refrigerant gas, alleging it made false or misleading representations and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
The ACCC’s allegations relate to representations made by Actrol about the reasons for significant increases in the price of certain types of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gas effective from 1 July 2012.
The ACCC alleges that, by a letter dated 20 June 2012, sent to its customers and posted on its website, Actrol made a false or misleading representation that the price increases for HFCs R134a, R410A, R404A, R407C and R507A were due to changes in input costs and general market conditions.
The ACCC also alleges that the letter impliedly made false or misleading representations that the price increases were due to:
- an increase in its costs of supplying those types of HFC refrigerant gas; and
- the introduction of the carbon tax scheme.
“The ACCC alleges that prior to the introduction of the carbon tax scheme Actrol was amassing a stockpile of HFC refrigerant gas, and the price increases were implemented by Actrol in order to increase its margins and achieve a significant one off benefit to its earnings,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“This case is a further demonstration of the role of the ACCC in scrutinizing claims made by all levels of business in relation to the introduction of the carbon tax, and taking enforcement action where appropriate. The ACCC will be equally vigilant in monitoring the practices of businesses following the repeal of the carbon tax, to ensure that consumers get the benefit of the repeal as quickly as possible”, Mr Sims said.
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, declarations, injunctions, publication orders, a compliance program, and costs.
Upon the introduction of the carbon tax, the ACCC was directed to make it a priority to investigate businesses that engaged in misleading conduct concerning the effect of the carbon tax.
Under the proposed repeal of the carbon tax, the ACCC will be given a role to monitor prices of relevant goods and to take action against businesses engaging in price exploitation relating to regulated goods. Refrigerant gases are regulated goods and will be a focus of the ACCC’s monitoring activities.
Until the carbon tax legislation has been repealed, the ACCC has been directed by the Treasurer to monitor the prices, costs and profits of supply of regulated goods by corporations and the supply of goods by liable entities in order to assess the general effect of the carbon tax scheme in Australia.