Australia’s competition regulator is set to run out of money in April, after several significant budget deficits leave it without the cash to operate past that date.
It’s set the government racing to find a solution, with Small Business Minister Bruce Billson in talks with the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, to come to an arrangement.
Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Billson said he expects the remedy to the ACCC’s “dire financial predicament” will involve “some extra funding, but also a close examination of the way the Commission spends its fund and manages to live within its means, as we expect of all Commonwealth agencies.”
The ACCC is a crucial regulator to small business, as it ensures a fair and competitive marketplace, Billson says.
“It’s the agency that seeks to ensure competition is on merit and not on muscle, and ensures that efficient businesses large and small have a fair chance to prosper.”
The ACCC has operated in deficit for several years and lost $25 million on an operating basis last financial year. It asked Treasurer Joe Hockey late last year for an extra $100 million to carry out its duties.
Billson says the body will get some extra money, but not without taking steps to manage its money better in the future.
“It’s outrageous and appalling that the former Labor government has left such a crucial agency in such a precarious financial state,” he added. “We’re now working hard and collaboratively with the Commission’s chairman to map out a pathway to restore its financial position and sustainability.”
Billson says any plan will have three key aspects: it’ll involve some sort of funding injection; it’ll ensure there’s suitable governance and organisational leadership in place to guard against further budget overruns into the future; and it’ll look at ways the commission can do its work more efficiently and properly prioritise its expenditure.
No plan has yet been agreed to, but it’s likely an outcome will be announced soon given the April deadline.
“We need to find a solution before the cash runs out,” Billson says.
ACCC chief executive Brian Cassidy resigned yesterday after 13 years in the role. Despite the extra scrutiny of the ACCC’s finances, he told the Australian Financial Reviewhis retirement was entirely voluntary. “I haven’t been pushed,” he said.