ACCC Chair Shares Vision to Protect Australian Consumers in a Digital and Green Future

May 26, 2022

Following a recent AICC Chairman’s Circle lunch on ACCC Priorities & Purpose Ahead, supported by Gilbert+Tobin, newly appointed Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC) chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb shared her leadership vision and upcoming agenda for protecting Australian consumers into a digital and green future.

She is honoured to be appointed as the first woman chair of the ACCC. She intends to continue the work of the ACCC to foster greater inclusion and diversity amongst the watchdog’s 1200 employees.  Her focus is not limited to gender but also includes working with a range of strongly identifying employee networks including “a Pride network, culturally and linguistically diverse networks, Indigenous employee network, as well as a disability and carers network.” She recognises the benefits of strong, active and proud employees and is making sure she learns from them and leads “by giving a great emphasis and support, that we are benefitted by their commitments and contributions quite significantly”.

Her quest for ensuring equal opportunity extends beyond the ACCC itself. “I am conscious in all respects in which the ACCC in performing our role in the community is aware of questions of disadvantage, countering disadvantage and experience of vulnerability.” She noted the ACCC’s acknowledgement that certain conduct in breach of the law has the potential to specifically impact on the welfare of Indigenous Australians. She noted “one of our priorities is the protection of Indigenous consumers from misleading and unfair practices.”

Cass-Gottlieb notes that the ACCC is still working to rectify some of the aftereffects of the Covid- impacted supply chain issues. More recently this includes working with other international antitrust agencies “to ensure that businesses don’t coordinate or collude under the cover that there is a Covid disruption-caused, or war in Ukraine-caused, supply disruption.” The agencies share information and issues for investigation to pursue “any suggestion that that’s being used as a veil for anti-competitive collusion.”

Noting that Israel has a very active Competition Authority, and is an involved member of the network of competition regulators worldwide, the ACCC has shared “experiences and insights with the Israeli authority, both us sharing lessons we have learned, and Israel sharing lessons they have learnt.”

One of the ACCCs “key compliance and enforcement priorities in the coming year is to ensure that environmental and sustainability claims made by businesses are made truthfully and are able to be verified in respect of the way in which the business operates, its manufacturing and distribution processes and what it offers to consumers.”  Commonly referred to as greenwashing, Cass-Gottlieb notes that it’s an issue not just for consumers, who are increasingly making their purchasing decision based on climate change and environmental sustainability, but also an issue for competition. “If one business is genuinely investing in more environmentally sustainable manufacturing processes or energy sources and they are competing with a rival who is claiming to do so and isn’t, then there is a competition problem there.”

If there are complaints made the ACCC considers the complaint, decides whether to investigate and acts if appropriate.

Since her appointment in March 2022 she has been making regular headlines by showing that no company is exempt from the ACCC’s purview, even large multinationals such as Uber, Honda, Meta, and Trivago. More recently Mastercard and AirBnb have also faced court action. “We do see that when we are very clear about the focus we are giving in terms of such investigation and enforcement action, that it does produce much more awareness in the business community.”