ACCC highlights cartels, Indigenous consumer protection, and agriculture in 2016 priorities

Chairman Rod Sims today announced the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s compliance and enforcement priorities at a CEDA event in Sydney.

“In the area of competition law, we will continue to take a strong line on cartel conduct, anti-competitive conduct and practices, and where we can, misuse of market power,” Mr Sims said.

“We have around 20 cartel investigations under way at any one time and we expect one or two criminal prosecutions this year and some other important civil proceedings.”

Mr Sims outlined several new priorities and some continuing areas of focus in protecting consumers and small businesses.

“The ACCC has elevated Indigenous consumer protection to an enduring priority,” Mr Sims said.

“This is a significant change to our policy recognising that Indigenous consumers, particularly those living in remote areas, continue to face challenges in asserting their consumer rights.”

He said the ACCC will continue to prioritise activities to protect older consumers and consumers who are newly arrived in Australia.

In the area of express or extended warranties, Mr Sims said the ACCC will crackdown on representations made by larger businesses.

“This has been a focus in past years and its re-emergence as a priority reflects the important foundation consumer guarantees play in consumer protection.”

On the back of the Fiat Chrysler Australia investigation, Mr Sims said the ACCC is calling on vehicle manufacturers and new car retailers to invest in aftersales care.

“We will also be shortly concluding our important investigation into emission issues involving VW.”

The Chairman said the ACCC will highlight product safety dangers associated with button batteries, quad bikes and Infinity cables.

“Experts predict that the insulation surrounding the [Infinity] cable will start to become brittle in 2016. This could lead to electric shock or fires. We and our state colleagues will continue our efforts to get this cable removed from homes.”

Mr Sims said competition and consumer issues in the health and medical sector remain a priority in 2016.

“First, health service providers need to ensure their disclosure practices are in line with the Australian Consumer Law; we will likely take some action in this area shortly.”

“Second, we have focussed on misleading health claims in relation to certain food products, and have some well-advanced investigations in this area.”

Mr Sims said the ACCC has two priority areas aimed squarely at protecting small firms; new laws protecting small businesses from unfair terms in standard form contracts and industry codes of conduct.

In combatting scams, Mr Sims said the ACCC will continue attempts to disrupt relationship scams by writing to people who are sending money to overseas scams hot spots.

Mr Sims said: “In my personal view, the ACCC has not done enough competition advocacy and market studies in the past. Promoting competition and pro market reform should not wait for a Hilmer or a Harper Review”.

Mr Sims outlined the ACCC’s approach to using market studies to ‘shine a light’ on the competitiveness of particular agricultural supply chains, regional petrol prices and Australia’s east coast gas market.

“Competition and consumer issues in the agriculture sector are a new priority and will be a primary focus for our market studies.”