Australian consumers need more protection from powerful digital giants and unfair trade, the head of the consumer watchdog has said.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims – in his final address to the National Press Club before stepping down from office – outlined key issues and challenges in sectors such as energy, aviation, digital services and financial.
Mr. Sims proposed new rules for tech giants to protect consumers and promote competition.
He also reiterated his call for reforms to Australia’s merger laws.
“(The tech giants) have innovated to succeed, they have fantastic products, but they’ve also acquired a wide range of companies that have extended their reach and cemented their power,” he said.
“Action is needed…and such options would impose up-front rules that would prevent the worst abuses of dominance and protect consumers.”
He says the ACCC’s work to establish the News Media Trading Code – which ensures media organizations are paid for content on digital platforms – is leading and has helped both major and small media companies.
“Google and Facebook didn’t replace media. We still need media, we still need journalists and that was in serious jeopardy without the news media trading code,” he said.
Mr Sims also wants Australian farmers and small business owners, who often suffer from unfair contract terms, to be listened to by governments making policy decisions.
“A provision on unfair practices would go a long way to restoring farmers’ confidence in our market economy and, I believe, making them more productive,” he said.
The aviation sector should also be more competitive, with Mr Sims saying new airlines need to be supported.
He said companies such as Rex and Bonza must not fail because they had no seats on the runways of privatized airports.
“The ACCC will also be monitoring very carefully to ensure that Virgin and Qantas are not taking new routes at a loss to try and block new entrants,” he said.
But Mr Sims acknowledged that recovering from the pandemic should be a government priority before tackling the problems he described.
“When COVID is under control, I am confident that significant and early movement on the above issues and challenges will go a long way towards improving our economic prosperity,” he said.
“Progress is being made on some issues, but more needs to be done.”
Mr Sims has led the consumer watchdog since August 2011.
Australian Associated Press