This is a media release from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). It was originally published on 7th March 2023.
Consumer and competition issues in essential services, environmental claims and sustainability, financial services and other critical areas will be among the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities during 2023-24, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb announced today.
Unveiling the ACCC’s annual compliance and enforcement priorities at a Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) event in Sydney, Ms Cass-Gottlieb also listed as a focus competition and pricing issues in gas markets including compliance with the recently-applied price cap order.
“Our priorities must and do reflect the issues impacting the Australian economy, consumers and businesses in Australia,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“The present key issues of cost of living pressures, the price of essential services including energy and telecommunications, the integrity of environmental and sustainability claims, ever increasing losses to scams, consumer and fair trading harms from manipulative marketing practices in the digital economy and the always high risk to markets, business rivals and consumers from anti-competitive conduct, strongly feature in our priorities.”
The ACCC’s focus on environmental claims and sustainability was broadening beyond consumer and fair trading issues to include competition law and product safety considerations, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“We’ve established a new internal taskforce focused on sustainability that will build our expertise, inform and coordinate our efforts across the agency,” she said.
“In particular the taskforce will examine and seek to influence a range of issues where environmental and sustainability issues intersect with the application of competition and consumer law, including product safety.”
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the ACCC would again focus on the energy and telecommunication sectors in its work addressing consumer and competition issues in essential services and noted the ACCC had secured significant outcomes in this area during the past year.
“Misleading sales representations in relation to the price, features or benefits of essential services prevent consumers making informed purchasing decisions,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“It’s particularly important that consumers and businesses can make informed decisions about what services are right for them in relation to price and the quality of the services when they are struggling with shrinking household budgets.”
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the ACCC’s work in the energy sector would account for a substantial share of the agency’s compliance and enforcement efforts in the year ahead.
Manipulative and deceptive practices in connection with digital services would continue to be a key priority for the ACCC, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said, noting that the results of a recent sweep of social media influencers not disclosing commercial relationships including paid promotions would inform the ACCC’s ongoing compliance and education initiatives and enforcement investigations.
The introduction of new laws prohibiting unfair contract terms that include a new penalty regime later this year would be an important change for consumers and small business and would also play an important role in the ACCC’s enforcement priorities, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“Businesses need to understand their responsibilities under these new laws, or they could find themselves subject to severe penalties,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“We will be working to ensure that consumers and small businesses, including franchisees, enjoy the full benefit of these strengthened laws.”
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said that scams continued to wreak tremendous personal and financial damage on consumers and the Australian economy.
“Our Scamwatch service will continue to support government agencies and industry participants in the disruption of scams,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“We are also lending our expertise and support to prepare the establishment of the Government’s National Anti-Scams Centre.”
Ensuring we all get the benefit of competition in the financial services sector will remain a priority for the ACCC in the coming year.
“We have already commenced our inquiry into retail deposit markets, looking at how banks set interest rates for deposit products,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb confirmed the ACCC would maintain its enduring compliance and enforcement priorities, which target conduct so detrimental to consumer welfare and the competitive process that the ACCC would always regard them as a priority.
They included conduct impacting First Nations consumers, cartel conduct and anti-competitive conduct more broadly.
“Our focus on issues impacting First Nations consumers has now become integral to the larger remit of the ACCC’s work as we identify the disproportionate impact of conduct such as scams and misleading advertising and sales practices on their communities,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“Our inquiries into the insurance sector, childcare and mobile regional infrastructure allow us to look at the challenges faced by First Nations people in accessing and acquiring key services.”
The ACCC will announce its annual product safety priorities at the National Consumer Congress later in the year.
More information including the full list of the ACCC’s 2023-24 enforcement priorities is available at: Compliance & Enforcement policy & priorities.
A summary is also available at 2023-24 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities.
A transcript of the speech is available at www.accc.gov.au/media/speeches