Christmas comes early: Government commits further funding for the ACCC
The Federal Government has announced that it will provide approximately $28.6 million in funding over four years from 2019-20 to support the implementation of certain recommendations coming out of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry (DPI).
On 12 December 2019, the Government responded to the DPI, launched by the ACCC two years ago, announcing support for the reform of Australia’s media laws among other actions (see our previous blog posts here and here). After 12 weeks of public consultation following the ACCC’s release of the Final Report in July 2019, the Government has now released its response and an “Implementation Roadmap” that sets out immediate, ongoing and long-term task lists for reform.
The Government’s immediate response package
In a joint media release, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Attorney-General Christian Porter, and Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, affirmed that the Government’s response “will deliver a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose and better protects and informs Australian consumers, addresses bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and media companies, and ensures privacy settings remain appropriate in the digital age”.
In response to the ACCC’s recommendations, the Government has declared its immediate commitment to:
- establish the Digital Platforms Branch within the ACCC, which will be a special unit to monitor and biannually report on, enforce and undertake inquiries in relation to competition and consumer protection in digital platform markets;
- address imbalances in bargaining power between digital platforms and news media businesses by asking the ACCC to work with the relevant parties to establish a voluntary code of conduct;
- ensure that privacy settings support the protection of and consumer control over data through a review of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), which would seek to introduce a binding privacy code for social media and other online platforms that trade in personal data and align the maximum civil penalties under the Privacy Act with those under the Australian Consumer Law; and
- begin a staged process of media law reform towards the objective of a “platform-neutral regulatory framework” for both the online and offline delivery of media content (for example, television content classification and obligations).
The first inquiry to be designated to the ACCC after the DPI will investigate the supply of online advertising and advertising technology (“ad-tech”) services.
The Government will support the new Digital Platforms Branch within the ACCC with $26.9 million over four years. As part of a broader agenda to reform privacy and media regulation, the Government has allocated approximately $1.7 million to the Attorney-General’s Department for the proposed review of the Privacy Act. The Government’s position aligns with what appears to be the ACCC’s growing influence on privacy and media regulation in Australia.
The ACCC has “welcomed” the Government’s commitment to adopting these recommendations. The regulator has stated that it “will be working closely with” the Prime Minister’s Digital Technology Taskforce, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and other agencies to address these reforms; and will also engage closely with overseas competition and consumer regulators about these issues.
Funding for other ACCC functions
Outside of the digital platforms space the Government will provide funding to the ACCC for other activities, including:
- $7.4 million over two years from 2019-20 in relation to an inquiry into markets for tradeable water rights in the Murray-Darling Basin;
- $25.4 million over seven years from 2019-20 for the extension of the ACCC’s Gas Inquiry to increase transparency in the gas market;
- $2.7 million each year from 2020-21 to support the operations of the Agriculture Unit, which will include a dedicated Dairy Specialist role to enhance expertise and raise industry awareness about the Dairy Mandatory Code of Conduct;
- additional funding for the National Consumer Data Right, which has been committed but with the amount to be finalised; and
- $7 million in 2019-20 as additional funding for the Treasury Portfolio for the ACCC to strengthen its capacity to respond to competition and consumer protection issues.