The Australian economy now has the legislative and institutional framework within which to develop an economy benefiting from improved competitiveness internationally and domestically, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has reported.

In its first Annual Report, tabled in Parliament today, the ACCC says the passage of the Competition Policy Reform Act and agreement by all States and Territory governments to its reforms signalled a strong commitment to the development of a competitive economic culture, operating as one national market, uniform rules and rights for consumers and business, regardless of State borders and ownership.

"By the end of 1995-96, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was well established as truly national enforcement agency; the National Competition Council had been set up; the access regime was operative; and all but one State Parliament had enacted the legislation to extend the Trade Practices Act to previously insulated sectors of the economy."

The report says the new ACCC was more than a sum of its parts, the former Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Surveillance Authority.

"Although of different legislative origin, the two former agencies were essentially complementary in object and function - both being concerned ultimately with the potential of competitive markets to deliver benefits to the economy. What their merger makes possible is a better balance between trade practices and pricing work and the progressive integration of pricing skills and experience across the whole range of the Commission's activities."

The report highlights the extended work now covered by the ACCC including its role in public utility markets. "Structural reform, corporatisation and privatisation in sectors such as electricity, gas, telecommunications, ports, airports, health and postal services often raise complex competition and public benefit issues which touch on matters that are either potential contraventions of the Act or concern the efficiency or effectiveness of competition in the delivery of goods and services.

"In some cases the primary focus of the Commission's involvement has been the question of access to the services of natural monopoly facilities. The Commission is involved in such issues because of its general experience in dealing with issues of market power and also in recognition of the operation of Part IIIA of the Act, access to the services of essential facilities."

The report says the new legislative environment has the potential to have an even more profound effect on the Australian economy than the introduction of the Act 22 years ago. "The latest reforms represent a major step forward in the country's micro-economic reform program and in economic policy more generally, but are just the beginning of the implementation of the Australian competition policy reforms." Despite its new responsibilities, the ACCC 'traditional' enforcement work in the corporate sector has become no less important or demanding, with a greater number and greater diversity of matters than for any preceding year - and more successes. "These include a large number of matters under Part V [consumer protection], reflecting in particular a disappointing tendency for familiar forms of misleading and deceptive conduct to emerge in new markets." "With the introduction of greatly increased pecuniary penalties or breaches and of enforceable undertakings under section 87B, the Act became a more powerful and more flexible tool. The continuing challenge for the Commission is to find more innovative, and productive, ways to use it."

The Annual Report will be available from all Government Info Shops at a cost of $19.95.

Further information Ms Lin Enright, Director, Public Relations, (06) 264 2808 (w) or (018) 632 526 MR 144/96 16 October 1996