With a Coalition victory in the Federal Election it is now likely that Australia’s competition laws will undergo significant review.
The Coalition’s August 2013 Policy for Small Business recently affirmed that the Coalition is committed to conducting a “root and branch” review of the competition law framework in Australia.
While many of the possible areas for reform have yet to be identified or discussed publicly, a substantial review of Australia’s competition laws could affect Australian agribusinesses if changes affecting the power of major supermarkets are made.
The Coalition’s 2013 Policy states that it will examine how Australia’s current competition and trade practices framework and tools are applied. It will also identify if these laws are keeping up with emerging trends and whether the outcomes being achieved in the market are consistent with what was intended.
There has been no specific detail provided about what parts of Australia’s competition laws will be reviewed and what changes might be made. However there has been some speculation that the review might include amendments to the misuse of market power provision in section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010(Cth) (Act).
Growers and producers have been expressing concern for some time regarding the power of Coles and Woolworths as aggressive price discounting has been seen as negatively affecting farmers, growers, producers and suppliers alike.
Most recently in Queensland, a public hearing for the Milk Pricing (Fair Milk Mark) Bill 2013 (introduced to Parliament on 2 May 2013 and now being considered by the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee) saw strong support from dairy farmers seeking change to the present regulatory environment.
The 2013 Policy states that the Coalition is committed to ensuring that all business big and small are given a level playing field.
It will be interesting to see if any review of the Act places greater emphasis on curtailing buyer power and whether greater focus is given to the effect of the conduct of major supermarkets on their suppliers rather than simply on the existing forms of anti-competitive conduct.
With review of Australia’s competition laws having potentially significant impacts for Australian agribusiness, we will keep you updated as more detail becomes available.
Trent Taylor, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0668
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