Small Business Minister Bruce Billson has said he will continue to push ahead with reforming Australia’s competition policy, despite intense lobbying from big business.
Speaking at an event for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia yesterday, Billson responded to claims by Allan Fels, former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that the removal of an effects test from the Harper competition reforms would render the reforms useless.
Fels told the event small businesses would have no reason to support the Harper reform if an effects test is not adopted, according to Fairfax.
But Billson said the government has made the case for change and said the proposed effects test will capture a range of anti-competitive conduct, including big business locking up supplies of key inputs, retailers insisting on joint marketing fees and retaliation by companies in one market against those attempting to enter other sectors.
Billson also said he will stand firm on protecting small business from unfair contracts, even if the big end of town don’t like it. The government has already introduced legislation to extend unfair contract provisions to small business.
“I have been pilloried by every big business interest in this continent,” he said.
“In fact, you can buy an effigy of me off any of them.”
“There is no place in our economy for an advantages-strong, dominant business to insist a small vulnerable business be subject to a take-it-or-leave-it standard form contract that has terms in it that are patently unfair.”
“This is not the kind of economic ecosystem we want to nurture,” he added.
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, welcomed Billson’s comments this morning, telling SmartCompany if an effects test is dropped from the government’s competition policy platform, “the textbook economics and big business have got their way”.
While Strong says there is room to raise the threshold on the contracts that will be protected under the government’s legislation, he says until now, “he didn’t even have a threshold”.
“These are ground-breaking reforms,” he says.
“What is good for the majority of businesses is good for the economy.”
Strong says Billson is “smart and clever” and most importantly “had the backbone and courage to stand up to groups that in the past others have run away from”.