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ACCC highlights small business focus in recent report

Competition watchdog says in certain cases breach of competition rules can result in wider public benefits


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) states that it is continuing to ensure the interests of small businesses are protected under the new business-to-business unfair contract terms (B2B UCT) law, franchising and other industry codes.

To that end, the ACCC’s 14th edition of the Small Business in Focus report highlights some of its most notable actions taken over the first half of the year to ensure “small businesses have a level playing field”.

Deputy chair Michael Schaper says although a number of businesses have amended their standard form contracts, the ACCC is prepared to take legal action against those found to be non-compliant under the new unfair contract terms law.

The ACCC says it has a number of in-depth investigations underway and will take further enforcement action this year to ensure that small businesses receive the protection of the new law.

The competition watchdog is also taking steps to ensure compliance with industry codes.

The ACCC acknowledges that sometimes breach of the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) can have “wider public benefits”.

In such cases, businesses are entitled to seek an exemption from the ACCC by lodging an authorisation or notification.

One such case in the past six months relates to concrete cartage businesses with four or more trucks that were allowed to collectively bargain with Boral Resources Ltd to deliver concrete within the Melbourne metropolitan region.

While lorry fleet businesses with less than four trucks were already able to collectively bargain with Boral under the state legislation, Murray Billing Transport lodged an application on its behalf and other current or future concrete cartage businesses with four or more trucks to engage in collective bargaining with Boral for the purpose of giving ongoing effect to an established concrete cartage agreement.

Murray Billing’s application sought “authorisation of these arrangements as they may contain a cartel provision and may have the effect of substantially lessening competition within the meaning of section 45 of the Act”, the ACCC determination notes.

The ACCC ruled that it was “satisfied that the likely benefit to the public would, or is likely to outweigh the detriment to the public constituted by any lessening of competition that would be likely to result”.

The authorisation that came into effect on June 10 this year has been granted until December 31, 2022.

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