27 February 2024

ACTU calls for increased ACCC powers after report highlights price gouging

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Sally McManus

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said Australians have had enough of price gouging by big business. Photo: Sally McManus Facebook.

After reviewing the results of a report into price gouging and alleged unfair pricing practices, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for increased powers for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Former chair of the ACCC Professor Alan Fels handed down the report on 7 February. It found supermarkets, banks, energy providers and airlines were hurting Australian consumers by exploiting their market power.

The report came after Professor Fels chaired an inquiry launched in August 2023 which conducted public hearings in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Cairns. Academics, think tanks, unions and businesses made more than 750 submissions and 20 detailed contributions as part of the inquiry.

The report claims “profit pushing” and price gouging, particularly in the wake of the COVID pandemic, are major contributing factors to the hardships many Australians are facing. It states nearly half of the public submissions to the inquiry are about supermarket prices.

READ ALSO Fels report blasts corporate greed for hurting Australians

After considering the report and its recommendations, the union movement says it will prioritise the following reforms:

  • Price gouging should be unlawful: The Australian Competition and Consumer Act should be amended to make it an offence to charge excessive prices.
  • Public ownership and universal provision: The union movement believes in the universal public provision of essential services, which would address systemic market failures.
  • Power to name and shame: The ACCC should be permitted to name and shame businesses that overcharge.
  • A permanent Prices Commission: We support the establishment of a Competition and Prices Commission – separate from the ACCC – which has the power to unilaterally examine high prices and pricing practices.
  • A stronger ACCC: The ACCC should have power of its own to initiate price and market studies to stamp out unlawful and unconscionable behaviour.
  • Stop mega corporations consolidating: That in merger matters, the onus should be on applicants to satisfy the ACCC, and on appeal to the Australian Competition Tribunal, that the merger is not anti-competitive, is in the public interest, and would provide good jobs for working people.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said Australians have had enough of price gouging by big business.

She said the post-pandemic behaviour of inflating profits and keeping prices higher than needed was appalling.

“They have not acted in the public interest; they have acted in their own interests. Instead of assisting the country and their customers with the cost of living, they have made it worse,” she said.

“They have shown they will not act without stronger laws.

READ ALSO ACCC to conduct inquiry into supermarket competition and pricing

“The privatisation of essential services has exacerbated the problem, so we call on all governments to abandon the failed privatisation experiment. We need to make price gouging unlawful and name and shame businesses that overcharge.”

She said the ACTU would advocate establishing a Competition and Prices Commission, separate from the ACCC, which would “continuously examine high prices, their causes, and if those prices should be brought down”.

“Working people should not have their pay increases eaten up by excessive prices and profit-taking. The parade of huge profit announcements at a time when everyday Australians’ budgets are under so much pressure can no longer be shrugged off by CEOs and boards, as the public has had enough.”

The ACTU’s call came a day before Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci announced on 21 February that he would resign later this year. Current head of eCommerce division WooliesX Amanda Bardwell will replace him from 1 September.

Mr Banducci’s resignation follows an interview aired on ABC’s 4Corners program in which he appeared to impugn the credibility of former ACCC chair Rod Sims who retired in 2022, and then momentarily walked out of the interview after asking if what he’d said could be cut because he “shouldn’t have said that”.

Original Article published by Andrew McLaughlin on Riotact.

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