House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration

Review of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission annual report 1996-97

Media release, 4 December 1997

PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY OF ACCC USE OF LAWYERS IN AUSTRALIS MEDIA CASE

Australia's major competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's, use of lawyers in the Australis Media case will be examined next week by the House of Representatives Financial Institutions and Public Administration Committee at a public hearing in Canberra on Thursday 4 December 1997.

According to the Committee Chairman, Mr David Hawker MP, " at the Committee's hearing with the ACCC on 20 November 1997 the ACCC confirmed that some of its legal advice over the Australis/Foxtel merger was paid for by Optus and admitted that a similar approach has been used in some other cases."

"The basis of the Committee's concern with this matter is the principle that, while the ACCC will inevitably stress that it 'take sides' in mergers that it believes are not in the 'public interest', the ACCC has an obligation to be not only independent but also to be perceived to be independent of commercial interests in its operations which impact substantially on commercial enterprises in almost every sector" Mr Hawker said.

"Professor Fels was unprepared for the detailed line of questioning put by the Committee on this issue and he agreed to 'have a real hard look at this matter'. The ACCC sought to stress that there was nothing illegal in what they had done and they had used this approach several times before."

Mr Hawker said "some of the matters that the Committee would address at the hearing next week include:

Appearing before the Committee will be the Australian Government Solicitor and the ACCC.

"It is indisputable that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, must be independent, accountable and transparent, and be seen to be independent, accountable and transparent" said Mr Hawker. "If there are more appropriate ways in which the ACCC should be performing its role to achieve those objectives and facilitate competition and ultimately consumers, the Committee wants this identified and the appropriate procedural and legislative changes made."

Ends // 28 November 1997 Further information:
David Hawker MP (Chairman) (03) 5572 1100 (Electorate) // (02) 6277 4100 (Parl House)
Bev Forbes (Inquiry Secretary) (02) 6277 4587

Draft Program - Public hearing

Review of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission annual report 1996-97

Thursday 4 December 1997, 10.00am - 1.00pm

House of Representatives Committee Room 2R2
Parliament House
CANBERRA

10.00am Australian Government Solicitor

10.45am Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

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