Origins of the Review
During the previous term of Parliament the Coalition promised a “root and branch review” of Australia’s competition laws. On 27 March 2014 the Government announced a Review Panel to be chaired by Professor Ian Harper. At the same time the Government released the final Terms of Reference for the review.
The Terms of Reference are extremely wide ranging, covering not only the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 but also issues such as privatisation, competitive neutrality, deregulation and the potential role of competition in government service provision. In fact, the Review Panel has characterised its work as ‘Hilmer Mark II,’ referring to the comprehensive National Competition Policy Review chaired by Professor Fred Hilmer in 1993.
On 14 April 2014 the Review Panel released an Issues Paper. It deals with six priorities: competition policy; regulatory impediments to competition; government-provided goods and services and competitive neutrality; potential reforms in other sectors; competition laws; and administration of competition policy.
Submissions to the Review
The Issues Paper poses 55 questions and invites submissions by 10 June 2014. As explained in the Fact Sheet not all questions need be addressed in any submission. The process for making submissions is set out at www.competitionpolicyreview.gov.au
Although competition laws, as set out in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, are formally just one of the six priorities identified in the Issues Paper, they are likely to attract most of the attention in the public consultation processes.
Numerous amendments have been proposed to the competition laws in the name of protecting businesses from unfair competition. In evaluating such proposals, great care needs to be taken to ensure that it is competition, rather than businesses, that are being protected. On this the Review Panel is reassuring, its message in the Issues Paper being that it plans to make recommendations “to promote competition across the Australian economy.”
Nevertheless, it is important that businesses with an interest in protecting competition from anti-competitive amendments consider making a submission to the Review Panel.