THE AUSTRALIAN Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported on its activities for the final quarter of 2007, recounting the highlights of a year in which the regulator was often in the media spotlight.
Reporting for the period 1 October to 31 December 2007, the report focussed on the Commission’s successful cartel prosecutions — including busts of Visy, the abalone industry and even Tasmanian orthodontists.
Resale price maintenance was also targeted heavily in this period, with three matters concluded. Penalties of up to $1.25 million were imposed on offenders.
Consumer protection saw giants Channel Seven and Telstra Next G brought to account for breaches of the Trade Practices Act.
Merger activity was closely scrutinised in a year rife with rumours about large scale mergers and acquisitions. Of the 107 reviews conducted, 52 were done so in public. A total of 97 merger reviews were conducted — 86 of which were unopposed.
Efficiency wise, the ACCC seems to be picking up the pace of its merger investigations in accordance with industry demand. The Commission reported that 79 per cent of merger assessments were made under in six weeks. 71 per cent were dealt with in less than four weeks, and 31 per cent in fewer than two weeks.
A great deal of proposed merger activity in this period was in relation to media (Fairfax Media Ltd, Macquarie Media Group and Google Inc) and natural resources (Rio Tinto Ltd proposed acquisition of Alcan Inc, BHP Billiton possible acquisition of Rio Tinto Ltd).
Riding high on the success of the Visy prosecution, petrol prices are next in the watchdog’s sights. On December 2007 the ACCC commenced an inquiry into the price of unleaded petrol. The finding was submitted to the government, and the ACCC has now been granted special monitoring powers by the Department for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs.
A Petrol Commissioner will soon be appointed by the ACCC, following consultation with state and territory leaders. The Federal government has nominated the Western Australia's Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Mr Pat Walker, for the newly created role.