Minister for Small Business Bruce Bilson today released the final report of the Professor Ian Harper-led Competition Policy Review, the first such major review in 22 years. The report finds that Australia’s competition policies, laws and institutions have performed well in that time, but in the context of major changes in Australia’s economy – notably new technologies, the ageing population, and the rise of emerging economies - makes 56 recommendations to improve competition and promote well-functioning markets. Today’s report follows on from the draft report that was released in September 2014 and an issues paper published in April 2014. Almost 1000 submissions were made as part of the review’s public consultation process.
The final report includes recommendations relating to a wide range of sectors including human services, transport and infrastructure, and supermarkets, and considers a number of issues including cartel behavior and government procurement. It also identifies priority areas for review, including Australia’s intellectual property regime, planning and zoning, and taxis and ride-sharing, and areas for immediate reform, including removing restrictions on retail trading hours, parallel imports, and pharmacy ownership and location rules.
The report recommends a number of changes to Australia’s competition laws, including the misuse of market power provision (section 46), to ‘prohibit conduct by firms with substantial market power that has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition…’
It also advocates for the creation of a new national body, the Australian Council for Competition Policy, to replace the National Competition Council. It recommends that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) retain oversight of competition and consumer issues, but that a separate access and pricing regulator be established.
The Government will now undertake an 8 week consultation with industry on the report’s recommendations, with a formal response expected in the second half of the year. Today’s report also includes an implementation ‘road map’ and estimates the economic benefits of key reforms.
The final report makes 56 recommendations across competition policy and laws, institutions and governance, and matters relating to small business and retail markets, including:
Minister’s Media Release
- Governments should introduce a cross-jurisdictional approach to cost-reflective road pricing with the aid of new technologies, with pricing subject to independent oversight and revenues used for road construction, maintenance and safety (recommendation 3)
- Regulations that restrict numbers of taxi licences and competition in the taxi industry should be reviewed, including from ride-sharing and other passenger transport services that compete with taxis (recommendation 10)
- Remaining restrictions on retail trading hours should be removed (recommendation 12)
- Restrictions on parallel imports should be removed unless it can be shown that the benefits of the restrictions to the community as a whole outweigh the costs and the objectives of the restrictions can only be achieved by restricting competition (recommendation 13)
- The Panel recommends that pharmacy ownership and location rules should be removed. Tendering for the provision of pharmacy services in underserved locations and/or funding through a community service obligation should be considered (recommendation 14)
- All governments should finalise the energy reform agenda, through application of the National Energy Retail Law, deregulation of both electricity and gas retail prices, and the transfer of responsibility for reliability standards to a national framework (recommendation 19)
- State and territory regulators should collectively develop best-practice pricing guidelines for urban water, with the capacity to reflect necessary jurisdictional differences (recommendation 20)