Strong watchdog crucial to economy: Sims

By a staff reporter

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims says an active watchdog is essential to a functioning and strong economy.

During an address to the National Press Club in Canberra Mr Sims said it was important the consumer watchdog was seen as being strong enforcement agent.

"We also need to explain our role and the logic underpinning the Competition and Consumer Act so that Australians have faith that a market economy works for them," he said.

"Some think the ACCC should lower the price of petrol, or stop firms charging different prices in different locations for the same product, or prevent a new store opening because it will cause harm to the existing incumbents."

Mr Sims said such debates were pivotal and that they cannot be vacated.

"If we do not engage, and people therefore come to see large gaps in our economic laws, then there are at least two unfortunate implications," he said.

"Either people lose faith that our market economy works for them or there will be calls for more, or misconceived, regulation when, usually, what we have is best suited to enabling our economic prosperity. 

Mr Sims said with quite limited resources, the ACCC "achieves a lot both directly and much more, indirectly".

"Even when taking a case, or if we lose a case, often messages are sent and behaviour can change," he added.

"In addition, companies know we will enforce the law, the vast majority will not contemplate cartel or other anti-competitive activity. They have active compliance programs to ensure they do not mislead consumers, and a range of, no doubt, commercially attractive mergers are not taken forward."