ACCC identifies businesses to target in carbon tax repeal crackdown

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is set to begin monitoring prices, costs and profits of businesses to assess the effect of the carbon tax scheme from March 1.

The consumer watchdog was tasked with the job of making sure businesses pass on the savings of the carbon tax repeal in September last year, following the election of the Abbott government.

At this stage the ACCC will focus on suppliers of regulated goods, namely natural gas, electricity and synthetic greenhouse gases, as well as businesses identified as liable entities under the Clean Energy Act.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper told SmartCompany other liable entities include some manufacturing, mining and LPG businesses.

This means the ACCC will scrutinise around 400 companies in the coming months.

“In the first instance we’ll talk to those businesses and ask for information to be provided voluntarily,” Schaper says.

“We’ll write to the 400 companies and give them some time to get the information together. It’s essentially an information gathering exercises, it’s not an expectation for a firm to adjust their prices, that will only come after the tax is ceased.”

Schaper says the ACCC will be seeking information on how businesses set their prices, the impact of the current scheme on prices and how the business went about determining the costs.

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said in a statement yesterday the ACCC’s aim will be to “establish a baseline price, ensuring that customers, both business and consumers, are not charged higher prices once the carbon tax is abolished by the federal government”.

“That’s more money to help make ends meet and to bring down the cost of living for Australian families. Energy-dependent businesses will also benefit from reduced energy costs,” he says.

In November last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill which gives the ACCC powers as part of the carbon tax repeal to monitor prices and to take action against businesses in key sectors that attempt to exploit other businesses and consumers by charging unreasonably high prices.

The watchdog will also be able to pursue businesses that make false or misleading claims about the impact of the carbon tax repeal or scheme on the price of goods and services.

However, the bill is yet to pass the Senate, so at this stage the ACCC will take on a monitoring role.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement the latest direction will allow the body to get a better idea of pricing practices in relevant industry sectors prior to the repeal taking place.

“The ACCC is not setting prices. We are simply collecting information and monitoring the pricing practices of specific entities so we can fully understand the impact of the carbon tax both before and after the anticipated repeal,” Sims said.

The repeal of the carbon tax was one of the Liberal Party’s key election promises.

Billson says the removal of the tax is expected to boost the family budget by $550 a week.

“It means that small businesses will no longer need to absorb the cost of the carbon tax, increasing their productivity and competitiveness and contributing to the country’s economic growth,” he says.

“As part of the direction, the ACCC will be able to request information on the prices being charged by business.”

The ACCC will be expected to report on its findings each quarter, starting from July this year.

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