ACCC not sold on all Harper review recommendations

Harper review argues for some powers, including telco infrastructure access and pricing oversight, to be taken away from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has indicated its not yet sold on proposals in the Harper review of competition policy that would see the ACCC stripped of some functions, including telecommunications access and pricing oversight.

The final report of the Competition Policy Review (known as the Harper review after its chair, Professor Ian Harper) was released this afternoon.

In line with the draft report released in September, the review says there are benefits "in focusing the ACCC on its competition and consumer functions and separating out its current access and pricing functions into a separate, dedicated regulator".

"The new body would subsume the access and pricing functions of the ACCC including: declaration and access arbitration functions under the telecommunications access regime in Part XIC of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA); price monitoring functions under the Water Act 2007; and access arbitration functions under the National Access Regime," the final report states.

"[T]he culture and analytical approach required to regulate an industry differ from those typically characteristic of a competition law enforcement agency," it argues.

As a result a single national 'access and pricing regulator' should take over a number of functions of the ACCC and the National Competition Council, including "the telecommunications access and pricing functions of the ACCC".

ACCC chief Rod Sims lauded the "pro-competitive reforms" recommended by the Harper review, but questioned any move to strip the organisation of some of its functions.

"The ACCC considers there are considerable synergies between competition law enforcement and economic regulation, which would be lost," Sims said.

"Apart from the increased overheads from having to run two organisations rather than one, there would be very real costs for businesses in having to deal with two regulators, who may have conflicting views.

"Breaking up the ACCC would also go against the international trend, which is towards agency consolidation."

"That said, we recognise that these are issues for government to consider," the ACCC chairperson said.

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