In late 2013 the Federal Government announced a comprehensive “root and branch” review of competiton policy, the first since the Hilmer Review of the 1990’s. Significant restructuring to power, gas, transport and telecommunications followed the Hilmer review, with the Productivity Commission pointing to the welcome gains in productivity.
Many economic analysts, including Fred Hilmer himself, are welcoming this next review. They claim that reform has stalled at the implementation stage and that technological change has dramatically changed how business is conducted, making a review overdue.
The draft Terms of Reference have already been released and the panel is being established. Four principles will guide the panel. Interestingly, one of these principles identifies a preference for the private sector to operate in preference to government where markets are functioning or can function effectively, or where contestability can be realised. Under the fourth principle the panel has been directed to be mindful of removing the regulatory burden on business.
Of particular relevance to consumer advocates generally will be the fact that the review will examine the Competition and Consumer Act, including the role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC)’s consumer protection function and how this sits with its competition oversight responsibilities. It will further consider the division of powers and responsibilities between the ACCC and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Of particular relevance to energy and water policy, the panel will assess the competitiveness of key markets, including groceries, utilities and automative fuel. The panel will examine whether concentration and vertical integration in these markets impact on the welfare of Australians, a matter CUAC has researched in relation to electricity and gas market concentration.
The Review Panel has been charged with consulting through engagement with all interested stakeholders. At a minimum, the Review Panel is required to publish an issues paper, hold public hearings and receive written submissions from all interested parties. The Review Panel will subsequently publish a draft report and hold further public consultations, before providing a final report to the Government within 12 months.
The consumer voice must be brought to this wide- ranging review. CUAC will be commenting on the matters within our ambit, while urging other consumer and community oranisations to be engaged. The organisation is happy to support other organisations with information about the process and CUAC’s submissions.
Photo Credit: Caden Crawford