ComCom: repeated Vodafone and Spark offending poses questions about penalties

ComCom: repeated Vodafone and Spark offending poses questions about penalties

Major telcos are persistently breaching of the Fair Trading Act

Dr Mark Berry (Commerce Commission)

Dr Mark Berry (Commerce Commission)

Repeated Fair Trading Act breaches by Vodafone and Spark are raising questions in Parliament about whether penalties are "just a cost of doing business".

Responding to questions from a Parliamentary committee late last month, Commerce Commission chairman Mark Berry said over his ten years of service, the Commission had found itself regularly bringing proceedings against the two major telcos.

"Quite some time ago, we took a range of actions against Vodafone and we still do see those continuing conduct problems," he said.

"Often they are systematic problems with computer systems and other things like that - they’re sort of in one sense accidents, but they still continue to happen."

The regulator had a "constant path of enforcement" over the last decade of fair trading breaches against the companies, he added.

National Party MP Brett Hudson asked Berry whether his governing legislation prevented him from stating publicly whether he felt the companies were wilfully defying the law.

Berry said all the Commission could do is take court proceedings. Ultimately, it was for the courts to make observations and comments.

ComCom could highlight the fact that there had been repeat conduct in it submissions while the number of previous breaches was a matter of record, he said.

"It does raise another question about penalties, and the adequacy of penalties," he said. "I do get asked that question regularly about “are these penalties simply a cost of doing business?"

That was a live topic in Australia, he said, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asking for a report from the OECD comparing penalties in Europe and Australia.

That report found what Berry described as a "remarkable difference in the levels". It would be interesting to watch the policy debate over that in Australia, he said.

"I simply would urge people to watch that and see what happens," he added. "That may well be the question to be faced for the future."

Asked if he would advocate stronger penalties here, Berry said the repeat offending by Vodafone and Spark "does walk into that kind of question".

"I’m not the first one to raise this argument," he said. "I’m constantly asked this by the media, but as I say, look, I would simply sit and observe.

"We have the luxury, I think, for a moment, of seeing how the debate on penalties plays out in Australia, and, you know, I think again there is reason for uniformity of laws and approach on issues like this."

Last month, the Commerce Commission reported the telecommunications industry generated the most consumer complaints in 2018, continuing a trend evident since 2014.

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Tags regulationVodafoneTelecommunicationsCommerce Commissionfair trading actspark



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