Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
|Formed||1995; 20 years ago|
|Headquarters||23 Marcus Clarke Street
Australian Capital Territory
|Employees||802 (estimate for 2013–14)|
|Annual budget||$202M AUD (estimated 2010)|
|Parent agency||Department of the Treasury|
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is an independent authority of the Australian government. It was established in 1995 with the amalgamation of the Australian Trade Practices Commission (TPC) and the Prices Surveillance Authority to administer the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA) (Cth) (renamed the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 on 1 January 2011). Its mandate is to protect consumer rights, business rights and obligations, perform industry regulation and price monitoring and prevent illegal anti-competitive behaviour.
The ACCC administers the Competition and Consumer Act, and has standing to take action in the Federal Court of Australia to enforce its provision. The Competition and Consumer Act is a broad range of provisions, such as provisions on anti-competitive conduct, the Australian Consumer Law and regulation of telecommunications and energy industries. The ACCC, under the Act, also regulates certain industries by providing access to national infrastructure. The ACCC also has an educative role and seeks to educate both consumers and businesses as to their rights and responsibilities under the act.
The Australian Energy Regulator is a constituent but separate part of the ACCC and is responsible for economic energy regulation. It shares staff and premises with the ACCC, but has a separate board, although at least one board member must also be a Commissioner at the ACCC.
Restrictive trade practices
In most cases the spirit of the act, and thus the actions of the ACCC, favours neither consumer nor supplier, but strives to achieve a competitive market without artificial restrictions. For example, refusal of deal – a producer refusing to supply a potential retailer or customer with a product – is not itself illegal unless the action would have an anti-competitive effect on the market as a whole.
The ACCC is committed in bringing court actions against companies that breach the Competition and Consumer Act. Penalties for non-compliance of the CCA can be quite severe.
Companies that do not comply with the restrictive trade practices provisions of CCA may be fined by the Federal Court. There are three ways the maximum fine can be calculated. The maximum possible fine is the larger of A$10,000,000; or three times the value of the illegal benefit; or (if the value of the benefit cannot be ascertained) 10% of turnover for the preceding 12 months. Individuals may be fined up to $500,000 and since 2009 certain offences under the Competition and Consumer Act (such as price fixing or participation in a cartel) have been criminalised with executives who engage in conduct which contravenes the relevant provisions liable for a custodial sentence of up to 10 years in prison (44ZZRF and 44ZZRG of the CCA).
Companies that do not comply with the consumer protection provisions of CCA may be fined by the Federal Court, up to $1.1 M for companies and $220,000 for individuals.
The ACCC also has power to accept, on its on behalf, court enforceable undertakings under s87B of the Competition and Consumer Act. Such undertakings may include a wide range of remedies to the conduct.
A range of other remedies can be ordered by the court. For example, companies are frequently forced to publish retractions of false advertising claims in national newspapers and at their places of business. Companies found in breach of the CCA are usually bound to implement a compliance program to ensure future compliance with the Act.
The ACCC is regarded by some Australian business people as necessary but often ineffective, echoing the critics of American anti-trust laws, while Australian consumers generally hold the ACCC in high regard. Whilst it is acknowledged that the ACCC is required to help safeguard consumer rights, there has been occasional criticism of the organisation as being "all-talk-no-action". This criticism is most likely due to the inherent difficulty in obtaining sufficient evidence to prove breaches of the restrictive trade practices provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act.
Recently the ACCC has exercised its authority in a number of retail areas, including fining retailer Target for false advertising and Woolworths (including some Safeway branded supermarkets in Victoria) for anti-competitive liquor deals. In 2008 the ACCC published findings of its inquiry into the competitiveness of retail prices for groceries in Australia. The report found that the Australian supermarket sector is "workably competitive", but price competition is limited by barriers to entry and a lack of incentive for the two major players, Coles and Woolworths, to compete on price. The report also noted that Coles and Woolworths engage in deliberate strategies designed to ensure they maintain exclusive access to prime sites such as shopping centres to prevent centre managers leasing space to competing supermarkets. In September 2009 the ACCC reached agreement with Coles and Woolworths to phase out restrictive lease agreements. The ACCC has enforced the law against producers of quack devices with medical claims like Power Balance.
Product safety and recalls
The ACCC maintains a website listing all Australian product recalls and the following organisations are commissioned to assist with the surveillance and monitoring of product safety in relevant areas.
- Food products – Food Standards Australia New Zealand
- Motor vehicles Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (Australia)
- Therapeutic goods – Therapeutic Goods Administration
- Agricultural and veterinary products – Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority
- Electrical goods – Australian Electrical Equipment Safety Regulators
- Gas and appliance – Gas Technical Regulators Committee Australia New Zealand
The ACCC, in conjunction with state and territory offices of fair trading, is responsible for developing and enforcing mandatory consumer product safety standards except where the product falls into the jurisdiction of one of the specialist regulators mentioned above.
- Allan Fels 1 July 1995 – 30 June 2003
- Graeme Samuel 1 July 2003 – 31 July 2011
- Rod Sims 1 August 2011
- Economy of Australia
- Australian Consumers' Association
- List of Australian Commonwealth Government entities
- Two-price advertising (in Australia)
- CA 8199: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC], National Office, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 11 October 2013
- Australian Government. "Budget Paper No. 1". 2013-14 Commonwealth Budget. Statement 6: Expenses and Net Capital Investment: Australian Government. Archived from the original on 24 September 2013.
- "Target Australia Pty Ltd". ACCC. 14 June 2006. Archived from the original on 21 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Woolworths penalised $7 million for anticompetitive liquor deals". ACCC. 22 December 2006. Archived from the original on 21 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Report of the ACCC inquiry into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries". ACCC. 5 August 2008. Archived from the original on 21 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Woolworths and Coles agree to get rid of restrictive leases". Australian Food News. 18 September 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Georgina Robinson (23 December 2010). "Power Balance bracelets exposed as a sham". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Product Recalls Australia – Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on 29 August 2007.
- Official ACCC website
- Official AER website
- Product Safety Australia website (maintained by ACCC)
- Recalls website (maintained by ACCC)