On 23 February 2021, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its enforcement and compliance priorities for the year ahead. The Chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, also made his first public appearance today to discuss those priorities.
As we have previously reported, shortly after the ACCC announced its 2020 priorities it was forced to “re-focus” and rapidly adapt to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Australian marketplace. It is therefore unsurprising that some of the ACCC’s 2021 enforcement and compliance priorities, as discussed below, are a continued focus on areas that were on the ACCC’s radar over the last 12 months.
The ACCC’s key priorities for the year are as follows:
1. A continued focus on competition and consumer issues relating to the travel industry, particularly as restrictions lift and as Australia looks to move to a post-COVID-19 world. This includes reviewing the promotion and sale of travel products to consumers, with a focus on any misleading or deceptive claims and the implications on consumers from travel and event cancellations. In addition, the ACCC will consider competition issues in the domestic air travel market, as certain providers are looking to expand their domestic travel offerings while international travel may remain off the cards for some time.
2. Competition and consumer issues relating to digital platforms, with two enquiries on the horizon relating to AdTech and the Apps market. There are presently three enforcement cases on foot in this space, dealing with issues such as market power and allegations of consumers being misled regarding data use.
3. Competition and consumer issues arising from the pricing and selling of essential services, with a particular focus on energy and telecommunications. Some of the activities in this area align with the ACCC’s enduring priorities regarding conduct disproportionately impacting vulnerable or disadvantaged consumers and Indigenous Australians
4. Promoting competition and investigating allegations of anti-competitive conduct in the financial services sector, particularly in relation to home loan offerings.
5. Conduct affecting competition in the commercial construction sector, with a focus on large public and private projects and conduct impacting small business.
6. Ensuring that small businesses receive the protections of the competition and fair trading laws, and consistent with the ACCC’s specialist Franchising Taskforce (as we have previously reported), particularly focusing on franchises.
7. Competition and consumer issues in the funeral services sector, which is largely unregulated in Australia, for example, considering the “bundling” of goods/services to consumers which lack transparency.
8. Through its dedicated agricultural enforcement team, ensuring compliance with mandatory industry codes of conduct in the agriculture sector, namely the Dairy Code of Conduct and the Horticulture Code of Conduct. Notably, the ACCC will be looking to action certain of the outcomes of its enquiry into perishable goods, which was published in December 2020.
9. Empowering consumers and improving industry compliance with consumer guarantees, with a focus on high value goods including motor vehicles and caravans.
10. A continued focus on product safety by way of:
a. implementing new standards for button batteries which is a world-first area of regulation, with a focus on promoting compliance through education; and
b. enforcing compliance with new standards for quad bike safety, following 23 deaths in the last year, and conducting education and surveillance activities.
In light of the above, there are likely to be significant changes in the competition and consumer law space in Australia. Businesses are encouraged to ensure continued compliance with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and the Australian Consumer Law. Watch this space for further updates as we see those changes developing. If you require any advice or guidance at this time, please contact the team at Bird & Bird.