The markets the ACCC will be watching closely

The chair of the competition watchdog has shared its 2018 enforcement priorities.

  • Electricity and gas markets under scrutiny
  • Enforce new car buyers refund and repair rights
  • More NBN enforcement action to be expected

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has laid out its priorities for 2018, vowing to make use of new powers and resources as it targets the car, energy and broadband industries.

Chair Rod Sims revealed the competition watchdog's agenda at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) forum today before guests at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney.

He was quick to address the increasing cost-of-living pressures facing Australian households in his opening remarks.

"As we all know, wages growth has been modest since the global financial crisis while prices, especially of essential services such as electricity and gas, have risen significantly.

"The financial pressure on many households is significant," he says.

Much of the regulator's 2018 priorities builds upon work it started last year.

Rising electricity and gas bills

The ACCC was tasked with operating inquiries into complex electricity and gas markets in 2017. The inquiries were ordered by government after power prices shot up – by as much as 20% in some states.

"Armed with the clear findings on the causes of the problem, the ACCC will now focus on making recommendations that will improve electricity affordability across the National Electricity Market," says Sims.

The recommendations will be presented in a report by June 2018.

The new car market

The car industry's erosive approach to consumer rights is high on the watchdog's list, after an 18-month review found manufacturers actively prevent new car owners from receiving a replacement vehicle or a refund.

"We will give effect to our recommendations from the [New Car Retailing Industry] report about greater guidance and will continue to take action against traders where their approach is inconsistent with the law," says Sims.

"We will also seek to progress all the other recommendations, particularly in relation to the information given to independent repairers."

The report found car manufacturers gouge drivers on repair and servicing by charging an average mark-up of 64%.

Takata airbags

Sims made a point to independently address the recall of Takata airbags, which has widened to affect more cars since CHOICE's original Takata investigation in July 2017.

"It is estimated that worldwide around 100 million cars are affected by the defective Takata airbags and around 3.6 million are in Australia.

"Further, we estimate there are around 25,000 cars on Australian roads which still contain the most dangerous types of faulty airbags, called 'alpha' airbags."

Alpha airbags have a near 1-in-2 chance of rupturing when they are deployed.

Sims says a dedicated team has been established to resolve the "recall as quickly as possible", but he did not reveal if the recall will be made mandatory, as per the ACCC's official recommendation.

The National Broadband Network

The NBN has become "one of the ACCC's most prominent issues in the past two years".

Last year alone the ACCC approved redress programs to 58,000 Telstra, Optus and TPG customers, and commenced legal proceedings against Optus.

Further "interventions" to take place this year were teased, while Sims says the watchdog will release findings from its Measuring Broadband Australia program in the coming weeks.

The program ranks broadband providers according to the real-world data collected from as many as 8000 volunteers.

"Perennial issues"

Large traders dodging or misrepresenting consumer rights continue to be an ACCC focus, says Sims.

"This is a perennial issue for the ACCC, but it seems a case of two steps forward and one back each time we prioritise it."