ACCC takes new power to TasPorts fight

Watchdog alleges monopoly power used to block towage and pilotage entrant

ACCC takes new power to TasPorts fight
Engage Marine tugs tied up in WA


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will be looking for a change of fortune on the ports front as it tackles state enterprise Tasmanian Ports Corporation.

After failing to find success in moves against Port of Newcastle or stevedore access charging, the watchdog is using the amended misuse of market power provision for the first time.

The ACCC alleges that TasPorts, which owns all but one port in northern Tasmania, sought to stop a new entrant, Engage Marine Tasmania, from competing effectively with TasPorts’ marine pilotage and towage businesses, "with the purpose, effect and likely effect of substantially lessening competition".

"In short, our case is that TasPorts sought to maintain its monopoly in towage and pilotage in Tasmania, resulting in higher prices and lower quality services," ACCC chair Rod Sims says.

"This is the first case under the amended misuse of market power provision, an important law reform designed to protect the competitive process and help us address the harm that anti-competitive conduct does to consumers and the Australian economy."

Read how the ACCC views stevedore access charges, here

The ACCC alleges that TasPorts prevented Engage Marine, which is headquartered in Perth, from expanding in Tasmania by failing to provide long term berths for its tug boats, and refusing to place Engage Marine on the shipping schedule, which is necessary for it to provide towage services.

The ACCC also alleges that TasPorts has prevented Engage Marine from providing pilotage services at Port Latta by failing to provide training to Engage Marine’s employees, which only they could provide, and demanding that Engage Marine’s sole customer pay about $750,000 a year in fees to TasPorts after the customer stopped contracting with TasPorts.

"We are alleging that TasPorts’ actions are driven by an anti-competitive purpose, and that its conduct has had or is likely to have an anti-competitive effect," Sims says.

The ACCC is seeking injunctions, declarations, penalties and costs.

For its part, TasPorts says the situation, which obtained two years ago, is less clear and simple than the ACCC presents.

"The issues raised by the ACCC are complex, based on unique situations; they involve a law that has not yet been tested," the organisation says in response.

"TasPorts has a range of important  responsibilities regarding  the operation of Tasmanian ports.

"TasPorts’ principal objectives are to facilitate trade for the benefit of Tasmania and to operate its activities in accordance with sound commercial practice.

"TasPorts plays a critical role in ensuring marine safety and environmental management in Tasmanian waters.  TasPorts takes all its legal and regulatory responsibilities and obligations very seriously.

"TasPorts has cooperated with the ACCC in its investigation. TasPorts strenuously denies that it has breached competition law as alleged by the ACCC. TasPorts will vigorously defend the ACCC’s allegations."

 The concise statement to the Federal Court can be found here.

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