Legal

BCA chief calls on government not to target big business in competition review

Melinda Oliver /

The Business Council of Australia is calling for the federal government not to introduce any policy or law that restricts competition in its “root and branch review” of competition policy laws.

BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott will today give a speech at a Competition Policy Forum in Sydney, where she will say the review should not attack big business, including supermarkets.

The competition law review was announced as part of the Abbott government’s 2013 federal election policies, amid supermarket wars between Coles and Woolworths where the ethics of petrol vouchers on shopper dockets were debated.

In her speech Westacott will advocate that competition law should “foster robust competition, not protect individual competitors or sectors”, The Australian Financial Review reports.

“Governments should generally avoid policy and legislation that restricts competition,” the speech says. “The general competition law should also entrench the primacy of the consumer, including improved choices, better services, and lower prices.”

In an opinion column published in the AFR written by Westacott and Gilbert + Tobin managing partner Danny Gilbert, the pair said Australia’s high living standard “owes much to the Hilmer reforms which opened our economy up to competition”.

Conducted by Fred Hilmer in the 1990s, the Hilmer reforms overhauled competition law nationally.

“For consumers it has meant such things as cheaper milk and eggs, better mobile phone services, the ability to shop after work and on the weekend,” they said.

“For business it has meant being subject to the constant discipline of competitive markets, trucks travelling interstate more easily, and opportunities for investment in sectors that were once dominated by tightly controlled, unproductive and inefficient government monopolies.”

The opinion piece said there are three things from the Hilmer approach that could be usefully adopted in the current review.

In addition to the message that general competition law should foster robust competition, they said regulation should protect the “competitive landscape of today”. This should take into account the increasing competition faced by overseas businesses, they said.

The third focus should be on “getting the incentives right so as to promote the successful implementation of government reforms”.

Council of Small Business Association of Australia executive director Peter Strong will be on the panel in Sydney with Westacott today, and he told SmartCompany the broad review into competition law was important.

“Small business is a major part of the Australian economy and it will form a good part of the review,” he says.

Late last year Strong said he was concerned the competition review panel could be dominated by big business representatives.

“I hope we don’t get someone from the big end of town to head it up. You obviously can’t get the local newsagent to head it, although they’d do a better job, but you need someone who will understand the difference between big and small business and aren’t stuck in the policies from the 1990s,” he said at the time.

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