Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced that the Morrison government has committed to providing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with an additional $35 million in funding.
Mr Frydenberg said that the $35 million injection would fund the appointment of 16 additional ACCC investigators, which he said is designed to increase prosecution of “cartel” behaviour among corporations and improve the ACCC’s capacity to investigate competition issues, “particularly in the financial sector”.
The Treasurer said that the appointment of 16 new investigators would include six new investigators in the ACCC’s Cartels Unit, taking the unit to a total 30 of investigators. According to Mr Frydenberg, the specialist investigators would undertake intensive case work with legal teams, which the ACCC expects would result in “further prosecutions of criminal cartels”.
Mr Frydenberg added that the reinforced investigative team would also include 10 new investigators in the ACCC’s anti-competitive conduct teams, which the ACCC expects would result in at least two major competition cases in the court each year.
“This investment will ensure the ACCC can continue to protect Australians against cartel and anti-competitive behaviour that comes at the expense of other Australian businesses and consumers by denying them a competitive market place,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“Over the past two years, the ACCC has been a tough cop on the beat, recording a number of successful actions targeting cartel and anti-competitive behaviour, from major Australian banks to the international shipping industry. The ACCC’s actions have resulted in cartel penalties of over $170 million in the past two years.”
Further, the Treasurer said that a resource review of the ACCC would also be undertaken to ensure it is “appropriately funded for the critical work that it does in protecting consumers and enhancing competition across our economy”.
The government’s announcement follows the release of the final report of the ACCC’s mortgage pricing inquiry, in which it found that opacity is rife in advertised headline interest rates for mortgages, causing inefficiency and stifling price competition.
In its report, the ACCC also accused ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), NAB, Westpac and Macquarie (the “inquiry banks”) of engaging in “synchronised” pricing behaviour, pointing to the banks’ pricing response to the prudential regulator’s 30 per cent cap on interest-only lending.