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ACCC hits hard with $170m in penalties for consumer law breaches Featured

The communications and telecommunications sector, including major telcos like Telstra, was under the glare of the spotlight of the competition watchdog, the ACCC, in the 2017-2018 financial year, when it secured nearly $170 million in penalties for breaches of competition and consumer laws.

Telstra was hit with a penalty of around $10 million — along with similar penalties imposed on Apple and Ford — over consumer protection issues.

The telecommunications sector also was hit hard with action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission against telcos over misleading broadband speeds advertising.

In addition, during the 12 months, the competition launched its Measuring Broadband Australia program.

“In this last financial year, we took action on telcos’ misleading broadband speeds advertising and commenced our Measuring Broadband Australia program. Consumers are now getting much more accurate and transparent information about the speeds they can realistically expect from their Internet, and which providers are delivering the fastest speeds,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

In its report, the regulator says its work spanned a range of issues affecting consumers and small and large businesses across the economy, including product safety, infrastructure regulation, mergers, authorisations, agriculture, and inquiries into electricity affordability, the domestic gas market and competition in financial services.

accc peter

And, the ACCC says it continued to advocate higher penalties for breaches of competition and consumer laws, recording its highest penalty of $46 million in the Yazaki cartel case.

“We have been advocating hard for increased penalties for breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act to make boards and shareholders sit up and take notice,” Sims said.

“We will continue to seek higher penalties where we see consumer detriment or deliberate breaches of competition laws. This past year we’ve also welcomed the legislated increase to serious financial penalties available for breaching consumer law, bringing them in line to competition law penalties.”

During the 12 months, the ACCC Infocentre received over 290,000 contacts, and visits to the Scamwatch website increased to 2.4 million, with consumers accessed online education resources more than 4 million times, and businesses 1.5 million times.

The ACCC also reported that some 281 mergers were assessed in 2017-18 — with 90% pre-assessed without the need for a public review — and the remaining 10%, some 29 merger matters, underwent a public or confidential review, with 17 unconditionally unopposed.

Significant decisions included the ACCC opposing BP Australia’s proposed acquisition of Woolworths retail service station sites were taken during the year, as well as a decision not to oppose Saputo’s proposed acquisition of Murray Goulburn’s dairy assets following divestiture of its Koroit plant.

“While we endeavour to complete these merger reviews as quickly as possible, the focus is on getting the right decision to ensure long-term competitive benefits,” Sims said.

Sims says the ACCC will “continue to work hard to make markets work for the benefit of all Australians”.

“The importance of a strong regulatory framework and resolute action by regulators to correct harmful conduct, protect consumers and provide confidence to the public is clear,” he added.

To view the ACCC’S annual report click here.

Graphic: courtesy ACCC

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

 

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