Big business attacks predatory pricing laws

Criticism of the Birdsville amendments to strengthen predatory pricing laws by the Business Council of Australia has been rejected by small business groups today.

The Birdsville amendments were introduced by Senator Barnaby Joyce late last year in an attempt to make it easier for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take action to protect the small business owners who are most often the victims of predatory pricing.

Although initially rejected by the Howard government, pressure from small business advocates saw then treasurer Peter Costello make a last minute backflip that saw the laws pass through Parliament just weeks before the federal election.

Just a few months after they were passed, the Business Council of Australia, which is comprised of the chief executives of 100 of Australia’s largest corporations, has called for a review of the laws.

“I think there was a lot of concern about the way in which that came in very quickly, as opposed to the Dawson amendments which had gone through a very significant process and a lot of contribution for all sectors of the economy,” Robert Milliner, the managing partner of law firm Mallesons Stephen Jacques and BCA board member told The Australian Financial Review.

But Tony Steven, the chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, today rejected the BCA call.

“We support the Birdsville amendments and would like to see them tested. Big business has an agenda in mind regarding less regulation over unfair competition, but they will need to make out a case as to why changes are necessary,” Steven says. “Surely the consumer would benefit from more competitors in a fair and efficient marketplace.”

National Independent Retailers Association spokesman John Brownsea says some time will be required before the effect of the laws are fully realised. “Until something hits court you don’t really know what its true operation will be,” he says.

But, Brownsea says, small business groups should be prepared to talk with the new Federal Government about improvements to trade practices laws, including the Birdsville amendments. “Nothing is ever perfect, especially when it is done in haste, and where political pressure was involved,” he says.


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