The ACCC focus for 2018

This year, the regulator has outlined its priorities for the year stating it will focus on consumer issues in broadband services and energy, competition in the financial services and commercial construction sectors, systemic consumer guarantee issues, and conduct that may contravene the new misuse of market power and concerted practices provisions.

Further to its heightened powers covering the misuse of market power and related practices, the ACCC has established the Substantial Lessening of Competition (SLC) Unit. The SLC Unit will focus on investigations that could give rise to cases under the new laws. The Unit also has a broader mandate to enhance their investigation of competition cases.

The ACCC Chairman, Mr Rod Sims, in a recent statement stressed the importance of higher penalties under both consumer and competition law. In relation to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), legislation was introduced last week to raise penalties from $1.1 million for companies to the greater of $10 million, three times the value of the benefit received, or where the benefit cannot be calculated, 10 per cent of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months.

He stated "Currently, the maximum penalties for breaches of the ACL are, for corporations, approximately one-tenth of the lowest maximum penalty for breaches of the Competition Law. There is no good reason for this difference as we have seen cases where consumer law breaches have led to very substantial harm to many consumers."

He went on to say "Consumer issues in the provision of broadband services, including addressing misleading speed claims and statements made during the transition to the NBN, have become one of the ACCC's most prominent issues in the past two years and highlights the importance of both our consumer and competition focus."

"The first report of the ACCC's Measuring Broadband Australia program will be released shortly, and our commitment to truth in advertising related to broadband speeds is making it easier for Australians to choose a service provider. You have seen a number of ACCC enforcement actions in 2017 and can expect further interventions this year."

The ACCC has for some time sought play a role in consumer and competition issues relating to access to data. Most keenly anticipated, perhaps, is the ACCC's inquiry into digital platforms.

"Concerns about the influence of digital platforms have become prominent in recent years, on many fronts, and this inquiry will be the first of its kind to explore broadly the competition and consumer implications," Mr Sims said.

"A key question will be how much consumers know about the amount and use of the data about them that is collected and sold by the digital platforms in the form of advertising."

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