The very bad, and some good, from COVID-19

5 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically changing the global economic landscape and causing severe disruption to Australian small businesses, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said today.

“Many small businesses are doing it tough, and are being forced to restrict their hours, lay off staff and, for too many, close their doors,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims was speaking via Zoom at an event organised by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI).

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant economic impact across Australia, which is why we are taking measures to help consumers and small to medium sized businesses,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said the ACCC’s immediate response to the pandemic has focused in two broad areas of work:

  • authorisation of crisis collaboration between competitors, particularly in relation to hardship polices, and
  • the establishment of the ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce to tackle immediate harmful consumer and small business problems arising from the crisis.

Mr Sims said the ACCC has already granted interim authorisation allowing retailers to collectively bargain with landlords about rent relief during the pandemic.

“We see a clear public benefit in allowing retailers to work together in negotiations with landlords and help tenants who are experiencing financial hardship,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said a conditional authorisation had also been granted to allow the Australian Energy Council and wholesale and retail energy businesses to provide financial relief to business customers financially impacted by the current crisis.

“Energy is an essential service and it is important energy market participants support businesses through the pandemic,” Mr Sims said.

Mr Sims said there may be further benefits to energy users flowing from the crisis.

“One rare positive to come from this pandemic is that wholesale electricity and gas prices are falling significantly. These falls need to be passed on to businesses that rely on energy,” Mr Sims said.

“As Australia comes out of this crisis we will need our energy prices to fall significantly if we are to have the recovery we need.”

Mr Sims said the ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce is rapidly responding to the thousands of phone calls, emails and social media reports from impacted businesses.

“We are already engaging with some large businesses about allegations they are deliberately choosing not to pay their suppliers, or demanding large discounts off goods already delivered, and also delaying payments significantly, and that they should cease the conduct immediately,” Mr Sims said.

“We are looking into concerns that many small grocery or convenience stores are missing out on supplies that now seem readily available to the large supermarkets. We need to maintain strong competition in the retail sector to ensure economic recovery once the pandemic subsides.”

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