In a move that can be classed as a win for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Federal Government's Budget 2023 has announced measures to help address some of the regulator's key concerns of tackling the fight against scams, supporting the small business sector and supplying reliable, secure, and affordable energy.
In an impressive campaign against the growing threat of digital fraud, the Federal Government allocated a total of $86.5 million to combat scams and online fraud, with $58 million directed to the ACCC over the next 3 years to establish the National Anti-Scam Centre (NASC). The NASC will function as a new division within the ACCC to facilitate real-time collaboration and co-ordination by improving scam data-sharing across the Government and private sector by establishing "public-private sector fusion cells" to target specific scam issues.
The Budget 2023 is confirmation of the Government's crusade against the surging threat of cyber fraud, which stands in line with the Chair of the ACCC, Gina Cass-Gottlieb's, commitment to support the community in the fight against the ever-increasing losses to scams.
Complaints mechanism for small businesses
Small businesses may also claim victory as a result of the Budget 2023, with the ACCC receiving funding to establish the first phase of a new "super complaints" mechanism for designated consumer and small business advocacy groups. The mechanism will allow systemic issues under consumer law to be more quickly raised and fast-tracked to the ACCC.
The ACCC has received $69.6 million dollars to enact this first phase over two years from 2023-24 to 2024-25.
Gas market reforms
The Budget 2023 also aims to tackle the impact of rising energy prices on Australian households and businesses by progressing gas market reforms.
The Federal Government has provided the ACCC $14.7 million over 5 years from 2022-2023 (and 2.7 mil per year ongoing) to administer and enforce compliance with a temporary price cap of $12 per gigajoule applying under the Australian Government's Gas Market Emergency Price Order, as well as costs associated with the development and implementation of the mandatory gas code of conduct.
The ACCC can chalk up yet another win with this latest development correlating with the regulator's priorities for competition enforcement, as confirmed by Ms Cass-Gottlieb earlier this month: "In the coming year we will prioritise compliance with the price cap and, once developed, the code. We expect this important work to account for a substantial share of our compliance and enforcement effort in the energy sector".
Reforms to the ADGSM
The ACCC has also secured $0.4 million in funding in 2023-24 to accelerate the reforms to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM). This mechanism is a tool of last resort that the Government can use to help ensure Australia has sufficient gas supply. On 30 March 2023, reforms were made to the ADGSM to allow for more flexibility in responding to domestic gas supply shortfalls. Under the reforms, the decision to activate the ADGSM can be made quarterly, new protections are in place for long-term gas contracts, and liquified natural gas exporters will share equal responsibility for preventing shortfalls.
Ensuring the supply of reliable, secure and affordable energy
The Government has also provided funding to support the supply of reliable, secure, and affordable energy across Australia, including:
- $35.6 million over 4 years (and $8.8 million per year ongoing) to the Australian Energy Regular (AER) to continue compliance and enforcement activities to regulate and monitor energy markets;
- $10.9 million over 4 years (and 2.4 million per year ongoing) to the AER for new legislated functions that will support Australia's energy transformation and reduce emissions;
- $9.5 million over 3 years for the AER to monitor coal and gas markets across the National Electricity Market.
Overall the funding allocation to the ACCC is in tune with the regulator's objectives of enhancing the welfare of Australians through promotion of competition and fair trading and the protection of consumers. The focus on energy supply and production, tackling the issue of scamming and the systemic issues small-businesses face address the current critical economic, political and social issues Ms Cass-Gottlieb has outlined in her recent speeches on the ACCC's outlook and priorities for competition enforcement. It will be interesting to see the full scope of the effects the Budget 2023 will have as the relevant processes and changes roll out.