Price fixing to come under the spotlight of new legislation

Posted by Isobel Drake on 28th October 2008

The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, has announced a package of measures providing criminal sanctions for serious cartel conduct, including providing power to the ACCC to tap telephone calls for investigatory purposes.
After lengthy consultation with businesses, academics and the community at large, the Government yesterday released the final cartels bill in response to their election promise.

“Together with the United States, the 10‑year jail term puts Australia at the forefront in fighting illegal cartels,” Mr Bowen claimed. “Cartel conduct harms consumers, businesses and the economy; that is, by companies fixing prices or reducing choice or distorting the ordinary processes of competition.  The final bill includes a maximum 10‑year jail term for individuals who partake in cartel conduct.”

“We have always said that a jail term for cartel offences sends a clear message – price fixing is theft from consumers and won’t be tolerated in this country, Mr Bowen added. “The Government is seeking the support of the State and Territory Governments before it introduces the bill to parliament later this year.”

It is hoped the possibility of criminal sanctions for company executives will increase the deterrent effect for businesses that may otherwise rationalise corporate fines for cartel conduct as the ‘cost’ of doing such business.

The Federal Government’s legislation will also enable telephone interception powers to be used as an investigatory tool in relation to the criminal offences.

“Criminalising cartels, at long last, brings this country into line with the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who have had similar sanctions in place for some time now,” Mr Bowen concluded.

The final bill proposed for introduction can be viewed at www.treasury.gov.au.