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Competitive Australia rides out storm

AUSTRALIA rode out the Asian crisis better because it was more competitive, says Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chief Allan Fels.

Professor Fels told an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce luncheon that the Asian economies were suffering because they were flat on competition policy.

He said the ACCC considered WA to be a special case when considering competition.

“Any merger of cement firms in WA would be looked at very closely,” Professor Fels said. “Cement prices are low in WA probably due to the fact there are three players in the industry.

“I also think it is extremely important to get as much competition in the petrol industry as possible. It’s the only way to protect the community — not through regulation but through competition – including import competition.”

Professor Fels said any merger of the big four banks in Australia would not necessarily boost competition but might, in fact, make them 'slack'.

Professor Fels said the ACCC was actively interested in running cases on unconscionable conduct.

“The 1970s view was that the contract was sacred,” he said.

“But we have developed a common law doctrine of unconscionable conduct.”

Professor Fels said the ACCC never went to court on an experimental basis.

“We only go if we are sure a breach of the Trade Practices Act has occurred,” he said. Figures show the ACCC has won 135 of its past 143 cases.

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