A cooperation agreement was signed today allowing the New Zealand Commerce Commission to share compulsorily acquired information and provide investigative assistance to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The cooperation arrangement is required under NZ law before the NZCC can consider whether compulsorily acquired information should be shared with another international agency. The ACCC is already able to provide such information and assistance to the NZCC.
Speaking at a joint seminar in Wellington, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said the ACCC and the NZCC have many mechanisms for working together.
"With the latest changes permitting the exchange of compulsorily acquired information, we now have what is probably the most complete set of cooperation arrangements in place globally—outside countries who have established cross border enforcers, such as the EU."
Mr Sims also took the opportunity to speak about the introduction of the Australian Consumer Law and the remedies that came with it.
"The increased range of tools and remedies afforded by the ACL meant that Australia moved from lagging behind the rest of the world to providing among the strongest protections for consumers and small businesses. They have, quite simply, been transformational, such that the ACCC have never been better placed to do its job."
He also spoke about the driving reasons behind regulators taking action against cartels as well as the criminalisation of cartel conduct in Australia.
"When combined with the ACCC’s immunity policy for cartel conduct, which offers immunity to the first to disclose and cooperate (not dissimilar the policy employed in New Zealand), there has never been a greater combination of threat and incentive to deter and break open cartels."
"While the ACCC has not seen a significant upturn in cartel immunity approaches since criminalisation, it has seen a change in anxiety about the consequences of cartel behaviour amongst those it deals with."
On the mergers front, the ACCC and the NZCC have a long history of working co-operatively on dealing with potentially anti-competitive mergers even though, the past ten years has seen an interesting divergence in the process, but not the substance, of merger reviews by the two agencies.
Mr Sims said the roles of the ACCC and the NZCC in infrastructure regulation are complementary to those in competition and consumer law.
"The regulatory role means such agencies have continuing contact with a regulated industry. This assists us to understand better the issues that may arise in a competition or consumer matter in that industry."
The speech to the joint seminar at Wellington's Victoria University will be available on the ACCC website http://www.accc.gov.au/speech/closer-ties-across-the-tasman