The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s annual report for 2013–14 shows the ACCC was involved in 53 proceedings relating to consumer protection enforcement, increased competition enforcement and sent strong deterrence messages by securing over $12 million in penalties and other remedies during the year.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims highlighted the notable achievements, including strong court judgments, significant penalties and major regulatory decisions for the year.
“The ACCC will continue to take action where it believes there is significant consumer detriment or there is a risk to competition to ensure that businesses are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law,” Mr Sims said.
“We have recently focused on comparator websites and traders incrementally disclosing fees and charges, referred to as drip pricing. Cases against airlines will shortly be joined by both business and consumer guidance about price comparison websites.”
At the end of June 2014, the ACCC had seven cases alleging cartel conduct before the courts. The ACCC has taken court action against cartel conduct operating in the market for ball bearings used in motor vehicles and industrial applications. The Federal Court ordered NSK Australia Pty Ltd and Koyo Australia Pty Ltd to pay $3 million and $2 million respectively.
The ACCC compliance and enforcement policy 2014 prioritises protecting vulnerable consumers, including ensuring Indigenous Australians enjoy the same protections as non-Indigenous Australians. In April 2014, Startel Communication Co Pty Ltd was ordered, by consent, to pay $320 000 for misleading consumers about their rights under the ACL when cold calling consumers. The investigation was initiated by a complaint made during an ACCC outreach visit to a remote Indigenous community.
An important area of work for the ACCC is protecting consumers from the potential significant harm that can be caused by unsafe products. A total of 267 recalls of consumer goods were received by the ACCC in 2013–14. The ACCC remains vigilant in taking enforcement action to ensure compliance with product safety standards.
The ACCC again helped protect and inform small business operators, both through its many engagement activities and through enforcement actions. This included securing an order against Taxsmart Group Pty Ltd, Taxsmart Franchising Pty Ltd and Resultsmart Pty Ltd (together Taxsmart) repay $260 400 in franchise fees to five former franchisees for engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.
The ACCC plays a critical role in assessing mergers to determine whether they will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any market. We have been successful again in 2013–14 in pre-assessing more Mergers.
The ACCC considered 297 matters and conducted a public review of 48 mergers and a confidential review of seven, a decrease of 25 per cent on public reviews and decrease of 42 per cent on confidential reviews in 2012–13.
In 2014 the ACCC accepted NBN Co’s Special Access Undertaking, which is a key part of the framework for prices and other terms of services supplied to access seekers over the NBN until 2040. The ACCC also approved a range of measures to protect competition and consumers during the migration to the NBN.
The process of regulating fixed line services continued and has promoted competition over bottleneck infrastructure to the benefit of Australian consumers.
“In mobile services we extended our declaration to include SMS termination charges for the first time, which we believe will provide a basis for lowering these rates,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC AER Annual Report 2013–14 is available on the ACCC website: ACCC & AER annual report 2013-14