The ACCC has today filed civil cartel proceedings in the Federal Court against mining equipment and technology services company Qteq Pty Ltd (Qteq) and its executive chairman, Simon Ashton.
It is alleged that on seven instances between 2017 and 2019, Qteq contacted competing businesses working in the supply of services to the oil and gas service industry, in attempts to induce them to enter into cartel arrangements with them.
Specifically, Qteq is alleged to have attempted to enter, or attempted to induce four other suppliers to enter into, contracts, arrangements or understandings which contained cartel provisions, including provisions to not supply particular services to large oil and gas companies, to share markets and to rig a tender.
The ACCC also alleges that Mr Ashton was involved in attempting to induce competitors to enter into these cartel arrangements on six occasions.
“When businesses seek to allocate particular clients between them or agree not to bid on certain contracts, they distort competition, which can ultimately drive up prices to the detriment of other businesses and the wider economy,” ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.
“Pursuing cartel conduct remains one of our enduring priorities. We carefully consider all allegations of attempted or actual cartel conduct received, including tip-offs from industry insiders and customers, as well as anonymous reports made via our cartel reporting portal.”
“This case is a timely reminder for businesses, no matter what size, to ensure that their directors, senior managers and employees are aware of their obligations under the Competition and Consumer Act not to engage in cartel and other anti-competitive conduct, or they may face serious consequences,” Ms Carver said.
Qteq is a Queensland-based company which provides mining equipment and technology services to support the upstream oil and gas industry.
Its primary business is the sale, installation, and servicing of downhole pressure gauges to coal seam gas producers, which is known as ‘gauge works’. At the relevant time, Qteq was the market leader in providing gauge work services.
Gauge works are a form of monitoring and measurement when a downhole gauge system is inserted into a well to monitor the water level so that the rate at which water is pumped out of the coal seam can be controlled.
Notes for editors
A cartel exists when businesses agree to act together instead of competing with each other. Conduct can include price fixing, sharing markets, rigging bids and controlling the output or limiting the amount of goods and services. More information about cartel conduct can be found on the ACCC’s website at Cartels.
The ACCC investigates cartel conduct and can take civil cartel proceedings in the Federal Court or refer serious cartel conduct to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
For corporations, the maximum penalty for each cartel offence before 9 November 2022 is the greater of:
- $10 million,
- three times the total benefits that have been obtained and are reasonably attributable to the commission of the offence, or
- if the total value of the benefits cannot be determined,10 per cent of the corporation’s annual turnover connected with Australia.
An individual found to have been involved in civil cartel conduct before 9 November 2022 is subject to a maximum penalty of $500,000 for each act or omission.
The maximum civil penalties for cartel conduct by corporations were substantially increased with effect from 9 November 2022, by legislation passed by Parliament in October.
Anyone who thinks they may be involved in cartel conduct is urged to call the ACCC Cartel Immunity Hotline on (02) 9230 3894. More information about the immunity process is available at Cartels.
You can also report cartel conduct by using the anonymous cartel portal.
Use this form to make a general enquiry.
This document contains the ACCC’s initiating court documents in relation to this matter. We will not be uploading further documents in the event these initial documents are subsequently amended.