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Federal Government backs open data and VPNs

CHOICE welcomes the Government’s response to the competition policy review - although some key reforms taken off the table

24 November 2015

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has welcomed the Federal Government's response to the Competition Policy Review which stands to usher in a new era in open data in Australia that could help consumers make more informed choices in increasingly complex markets. 

"The Harper Review put forward a suite of ambitious recommendations that have the potential to create a lot of benefits for Australians and the Government's response has unlocked some of that potential," says CHOICE Head of Media Tom Godfrey.

"It is great to see the Government commit to taking action on so many of these recommendations – in particular, we welcome the news that the Productivity Commission will be tasked with reviewing options for increasing consumers' access to their own data.

"This could provide real, tangible benefits for consumers seeking to navigate complex markets – helping consumers compare which products and services are best for them based on their personal usage habits.

"We also welcome the endorsement of consumers' rights to circumvent geo-blocking in order to access goods and services from overseas at fair prices. Where Australians are blocked from overseas sites or charged a higher price, they should be able to use services like VPNs to get around these blocks," Mr Godfrey says.

While the Federal Government supported 39 of the Harper Review's 56 recommendations, there are some disappointing exceptions with consultation around trade agreements and wider parallel import reform being rejected.

There is also a point of caution around the human services recommendation. 

"While the Government supports the proposal to put user choice at the heart of service delivery, we think consumer outcomes are the first consideration. We would urge caution around the recommendation that choice and competition principles be adopted for human services," says Mr Godfrey.

"'User choice' by itself may not be able to deliver what's needed for some consumers, particularly those in rural areas and those with complex needs.

"Competition should be seen as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Our competition policy as a whole should improve consumer welfare by supporting robust competition.

CHOICE also welcomes the Government's decision to hold further consultations around changes to the legal prohibition on the misuse of market power by businesses.

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