A House of Representatives committee has heard that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has generally butted heads more with financial services providers such as Visa than multinational tech giants operating locally such as Google and Amazon.
Addressing the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources and its inquiry into impacts on local businesses in Australia from global internet-based competition, ACCC chair Rod Sims said Australian representatives of such companies have the appropriate authorisations to deal with local regulatory issues, and where a higher chain of command is required to intervene, the ACCC “generally” has good enough access to the resources abroad.
“We’ve got a long history of requiring those type of companies to comply with our law; we were one of the first regulators to take a substantial case against Google, for example,” Sims told the committee. “We have a good relationship — all the companies you mentioned have good Australian offices, government relations people, Australian legal areas, they’re all businesses that are keen to establish themselves and establish a good name in Australia.”
Sims believes it gives the ACCC and Australia a big advantage in terms of enforcing the law, because it means the multinationals operating in the country have a very strong, ongoing incentive to cooperate and comply with local law.
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“Our experience has been actually the most difficult people to secure compliance with are rogues … like Peter Foster, they require constant investigative resources to just keep on their tail and find out what new scam they’re involved in and take action in relation to it,” Sims added.
Pointing to the case with video game developer and digital distribution company Valve, Sims said it shows that the Australian law is “good” and is on the consumer’s side.
“We can compel a Washington State-based company that’s providing services over the internet to give consumer guarantees to Australian consumers — that’s a good test of our law,” he added.
Sims said the Australian representatives of global tech giants, however, tend to have the appropriate authorisations, and that the ACCC isn’t often stuck in a legal quagmire. The chairman said that while it is hard to generalise, “certainly companies like Amazon and Google absolutely” provide the ACCC with access to their management chain for regulatory assistance where local representatives are unable to assist.
“Visa has a very complicated governance structure that was hard to negotiate and was a bit of an obstacle for us,” he added. “The financial sector is a sector where there are issues that do arise, and Visa is a great example of that.”
In its submission [PDF] to the committee, the ACCC said it considers global online intermediaries offer local businesses opportunities to access customers that may otherwise be difficult to access.
“Global online competition also provides Australian consumers with access to suppliers and a greater level of transparency about price and available goods and services,” the watchdog wrote, echoing remarks made regarding Amazon’s entry into Australia.
“In the business environment of today, it really is necessary for business to understand the opportunities and threats that are presented by the internet … the markets are bigger than they were before,” Sims added on Wednesday.
“We take the view if you’re accepting money from Australian consumers, if you’re engaging in trade and commerce in Australia, if you’re engaging in business in Australia, then you have to comply with Australian law.”
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