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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced its 2019 compliance and enforcement priorities on 26 February 2019, with Chairman Rod Sims predicting a “busy, exciting but important year”.  

The ACCC reviews its priorities each year, assessing existing and emerging issues and their impact on consumers and competition. The annual priorities announcement helps to identify the Australian businesses that are likely to face increased scrutiny by the ACCC in the coming year.

Competition priorities

In terms of competition law and policy, the announcement identified the following priorities:

  • completing investigations and commencing prosecutions in two to three criminal cartel cases per year
  • conduct contravening the misuse of market power and concerted practices provisions
  • establishment of the new Financial Services Competition Branch with a permanent competition investigation team focussed on competition in the financial services sector, expected to complete a number of investigations in 2019, with the potential for court proceedings
  • continued focus on competition in the commercial construction sector through the Commercial Construction Unit
  • reducing investigation timeframes by using increased budget support to focus on substantial lessening of competition at the early stages of investigations
  • advocating the imposition of constraints on Australia’s major airports, and
  • advocating reforms to road regulation and funding.

Consumer priorities

In our most recent issue of Consumer Matters, we predicted further action on unfair contract terms, consumer guarantees, the telecommunications sector and franchising in 2019. The priorities announced by the ACCC include:

  • advocating the prohibition of unfair contract terms and the imposition of penalties, and continuing to focus on business-to-business unfair contract term laws, particularly in the agricultural sector
  • compliance by large retailers of high value electrical appliances and whitegoods with the consumer guarantee laws—an area where compliance remains unsatisfactory
  • complexity and opacity of pricing in the energy and telecommunications sectors with the potential to confuse and mislead consumers
  • progressing action against misconduct by franchisors, and
  • court proceedings flowing from the Digital Platforms Inquiry.

The ACCC has also identified several new or renewed areas of focus, including:

  • customer loyalty schemes, particularly in relation to disclosure, the use of consumers’ personal data and whether promised benefits are received
  • misleading advertising on social media platforms and subscription services, including “subscription traps”
  • advocating higher maximum penalties for corporations, including penalties of more than $100 million
  • advocating the prohibition of the sale of unsafe goods requiring suppliers to take reasonable steps to protect consumers, and
  • considering the need for laws prohibiting harmful or unfair conduct towards consumers to capture cases that might “fall between the gaps” of the existing unconscionable conduct and unfair contract terms provisions.

ACCC market studies

The ACCC carries out in-depth studies into markets, sectors and industries to identify and understand existing and emerging competition and consumer issues. In 2019, attention will be focussed on:

  • the Consumer Data Right for consumers to freely access their data to allow better comparison and identification of goods and services best suited to the consumer, starting with banks, energy, and telecommunications, and with a view to implementation by February 2020
  • the Northern Australia Insurance Inquiry into increasing insurance premiums in Northern Australia
  • financial services, and in particular foreign exchange fees and competition in banking
  • wine grape production
  • electricity affordability and gas prices, and
  • completion of the Digital Platforms Inquiry.

Find out more

If you want to know more, you can read ACCC Chairman Rod Sims' speech at the launch of the policy here.

If you have any questions about this article, how the 2019 priorities or the competition and consumer law may affect your business more generally, please contact Partner Nick Christiansen.

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