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‘No surprises’ in consumer watchdog’s 2024 priorities

The ACCC announced cost-of-living pressures and allegations of supermarket price gouging will be prioritised in 2024, a move that has come as “no surprise” to legal practitioners.

user iconNaomi Neilson 12 March 2024 Corporate Counsel
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A range of issues, from house prices through to cartel conduct, will be prioritised at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in the next 12 months, chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb announced.

In a speech at the Committee for Economic Development Australia event, Cass-Gottlieb said its priorities for the year ahead were shaped “by the key challenges facing our economy” and some of the major concerns “occupying our community”.

“Principal amongst these shaping influences are the existential importance of the net zero transition, the opportunities and disruptions of digital transformation, and the significant impact of cost-of-living pressures across our community,” Cass-Gottlieb said.


Kirsten Webb, competition partner with Clayton Utz, said there were “no surprises” in ACCC’s “strong consumer focus”.

“These priorities align with some of Australia’s ongoing broader economic and policy issues and political and community concerns, where the ACCC’s work is certainly involved,” Webb said.

One of its more pressing priorities is the consumer protection and pricing issues within the supermarket industry, following the federal government’s request for a 12-month inquiry.

In addition to investigating the pricing practices and relationship between wholesale prices and the prices paid by consumers, ACCC will examine the allegations of false or misleading “sales”, “was/now”, or other pricing “specials” advertised by supermarkets.

“The ACCC previously conducted an inquiry into the sector in 2008 that led to compliance and enforcement outcomes, including undertakings to restrict the size of shopper docket discounts and a decision to introduce a unit pricing code,” Cass-Gottlieb said.

This will go hand in hand with its priority to keep an eye on the cost-of-living pressures to ensure vulnerable Australians are not falling victim “to the effects of anti-competitive conduct that reduce competition in the supply of essential goods and services”.

“We are very conscious that misleading sales representations in relation to the price, features or benefits of essential goods and services prevent consumers [from] making informed purchasing decisions, and this is of even greater harm in times of reduced household disposable incomes,” Cass-Gottlieb added.

The consumer watchdog will also investigate false and misleading environmental claims, misleading conduct within the energy and telecommunications sectors, fair trading in the digital economy, unfair contract terms, and consumer guarantees.

Cass-Gottlieb said the last priority was “the most complained about issue raised with the ACCC” in each state and territory.

“Consumer electronics attracts a high volume of complaints, particularly as many consumers are caught between retailers and manufacturers who often obfuscate and shift blame on who is responsible when there is an issue,” Cass-Gottlieb said.

Given the issues within some of Australia’s major airlines, the ACCC will also focus on consumer issues within the aviation sector.

Reinstation into monitoring the airline industry will allow the watchdog to “look closer and follow through on allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and unfair business practices”, Cass-Gottlieb said.

As for its enduring priorities, ACCC said it would continue to monitor cartel conduct, anti-competitive conduct, the National Anti-Scam Centre, and misconduct impacting First Nations people.

Webb said these enduring priorities “remain unchanged”.

“This is conduct so detrimental to consumer welfare and the competitive process that the ACCC will always regard them as priorities,” Webb commented.

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