Trade practices across Australia

The past financial year saw our trade practices lawyers representing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and other agencies, most notably Medicare, in complex competition law litigation involving conduct both in Australia and overseas. Misleading 'green' claims and misrepresentations made via the internet were also the focus of successful consumer protection proceedings during the year.

Many lawyers were involved in our work for the ACCC, including David Ablett in Melbourne, Matthew Garey and Lici Inge in Sydney, Nic Parkyn in Adelaide and Chris Steger, Glenn Owbridge and Katrina Close in Brisbane.

Proceedings arising from price-fixing arrangements in air cargo continue to be the most significant area of activity for AGS's competition lawyers. Lawyers from our Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne offices have been involved in aspects of proceedings brought by the ACCC against numerous international airlines. Additionally, AGS acted for the Assistant Treasurer in AD(JR) proceedings (including a Full Federal Court hearing) arising from private air cargo litigation.

In Melbourne, our competition lawyers were involved in significant matters for the ACCC including:

  • ACCC v Cabcharge, involving allegations concerning the misuse of market power by Cabcharge
  • ACCC v Bridgestone & Ors, in which pecuniary penalties of $8.2 million were imposed for bid-rigging, market-sharing and price-fixing in the supply in Australia of marine hose products
  • ACCC v Bill Express, involving third line forcing and misleading and deceptive conduct.

In Sydney, AGS lawyers acted for the ACCC to obtain pecuniary penalties and other relief against a defence equipment supplier for anti-competitive conduct under Part IV of the Trade Practices Act 1974 in relation to the supply of air combat manoeuvring instrumentation systems (ACCC v DRC C3 Systems). AGS lawyers also had significant wins in proceedings concerning an international paper cartel, and in pursuing false and misleading 'green' claims in relation to renewable energy certificates (ACCC v Global Green Plan Ltd), and the 'green' properties of alleged energy-saving devices (ACCC v Auscha Corporation Pty Ltd).

In Canberra, our competition lawyers were successful in defending Medicare Australia against allegations, by a private applicant, of anti-competitive conduct in relation to Medicare's online system for the processing of in-hospital medical expenses.

AGS also assisted the ACCC in a range of proceedings brought before the Federal Court concerning misleading and deceptive conduct in the promotion of premium mobile telephone services. AGS also continued to assist the ACCC in the assessment of contentious applications for informal merger clearance.

The Brisbane AGS office continued to coordinate and lead the AGS Trade Practices Network in the ACCC's most difficult cartel and market power matters. In addition to air cargo, AGS lawyers based in Brisbane led AGS's representation in proceedings alleging cartel conduct by high-voltage cables suppliers, market power proceedings in relation to supply of fly-ash in south-east Queensland, and price-fixing proceedings against a major bank.

The Brisbane office continued to receive support and assistance from lawyers around the country.

In 2010–11, with sweeping changes to the Trade Practices Act, we are looking forward to a continued focus on cartel activity, and assisting the ACCC in its regulation and enforcement of new consumer protection laws.

This is an extract from the 2009–10 AGS annual report