Australian Government Response to the Competition Policy Review

Mario Dreosti , 2 December 2015

Mario Dreosti provides an update on the Australian Government’s response to the “Harper Review” into competition policy.

The Harper Review made 56 recommendations to modernise and simplify Australia’s competition laws with a focus on increasing competition, innovation and consumer choice.

The Australian government has supported 39 of the recommendations in full or in principle and a further five in part. Many of the recommendations are noted as items that relate to state-based control.

A selection of recommendations that may be of more direct interest to practicing architects include:

Recommendation 6 – Intellectual property review

This recommendation is primarily focussed on intellectual property rights in international agreements, however it makes an interesting and relevant point in relation to research and innovation. If intellectual property is too highly protected it generates a cost burden to services. In contrast, when intellectual property is inadequately protected it can lead to under-investment in research and a lack of innovation, because there is little incentive to conduct such research.

This observation is of interest to architects who regularly sign contracts that immediately divest all intellectual property and moral rights, arguably also removing the incentive to pursue innovation.

Recommendation 9 – Planning and zoning

The government supported this recommendation to subject restrictions in competition from planning or zoning to a public interest test and to acknowledge that competition concerns are not a matter for planning and zoning. This recommendation pointed to more efficient planning process, removal or retail area caps and broader business zoning. It was noted as an area of state control and the Government encourages the states to review.

Recommendation 11 – Standards review

The government supported this recommendation that legislated or mandated standards should be reviewed more regularly and subject to a net benefit test before being reinstated. The government has committed to seeking an MOU to this effect with Standards Australia.

Recommendation 18 – Government procurement and other commercial arrangements

The government supported in-principle review of procurement and engagement policies where they relate to the private sector so that restriction of competition is subject to net benefit analysis.

Recommendation 37 – Trading restrictions in industrial agreements

The Government noted this recommendation advising that the Productivity Commission Review of the Workplace Relations Framework is scheduled to provide a final report in November 2015.

Recommendation 43 – Australian Council for Competition Policy – establishment

The Government supported the need for a body to oversee progress on competition reform and committed to discuss its design, role and mandate with the states.

Recommendation 53 – Small business access to remedies

The Government supported in principle the improvement of communication and transparency in the interaction of the ACCC with small business in regard to their pursuit of remedies and the pursuit of alternate resolution schemes which may be applied where the ACCC does not action complaints.

Architects should be aware of these likely changes in the future, many of which will be progressed at a state level such as planning reform.

Mario Dreosti is Vice President of ACA – SA and a director of Brown Falconer.