EP#231 ~ Mergers and acquisition law changes - whos' thinking about small business?

| Tuesday April 30

Small Biz Matters: People, Policy, Purpose ~ Episode #231
Broadcast date: 30 April 2024
Host: Alexi Boyd, Small Business Advocate & Policy Advisor
Guest: Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Chair, Australian Competition Consumer Commission

Competition is a major part of law reform which affects all small businesses. Whether it’s a small grocer in a regional town or a newsagent in a major city’s shopping centre, having a level playing field is paramount to small business community survival.

And without it, there is a serious impact on communities themselves.

A reduction in foot traffic as a new shopping mall is built nearby, changes to infrastructure which bypasses a regional town’s city centre in an effort to improve traffic, a big box retailer moving into the middle of town... these changes not only affect small businesses but their ability to grow, hire more people and continue to support their community.

So, who’s thinking of small businesses when these laws are being designed? It’s the ACCC. The Australian Competition Consumer Commission’s role has unique powers to administer and enforce the 2010 Competition and Consumer Act and other legislation promoting competition.

Whether it’s a big giant company gobbling up the competition with view for a bigger market share or a multinational company buying land to lock out their smaller competitors, or a large shareholder led conglomerate sidestepping competition laws by moving into a different segment the ACCC is keeping an eye on them to level the playing field.

Today we welcome Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Chair of the ACCC to tell us about the important work they are conducting to ensure small business voice and perspective is heard in these complex negotiations.  

PEOPLE –  Can you explain the unique powers of the ACCC? What are the benefits to small business to have a strong, vigorous competition in their sector?

POLICY - Often the public reads about multiple enquiries into aspects of competition (in this instance the grocery sector); ACCC, Treasury, sometimes ACTU. Is it necessary? Isn’t this a duplication? How do ACCC enquiries differ? the franchising code of conduct is administered by the accc and was recently reviewed by a former deputy chair of the ACCC, Dr Michael Schaper. It’s endorsed the ACCC’s suggestion to move to a licensing system. Where are we up to with that proposal?

PURPOSE -  The law regarding unfair contract terms has recently been amended to improve protections for SB. How’s that working out? Should small businesses fear the ACCC? After all, many see the sale of the business as succession planning and don’t want any limitations placed on this as a possibility for their business. Can you explain the merger reform and this will benefit small business? How will increased regulation not mean more red tape?

Gina Cass-Gottlieb commenced her 5-year appointment as Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on 21 March 2022. Before she joined the ACCC Gina was a senior and founding partner of Gilbert and Tobin’s competition and regulation team. Gina has over 25 years' experience advising on a large number of merger, competition and regulatory matters in Australia and New Zealand. She is widely recognised as one of Australia’s leading competition and regulatory experts.

Gina was appointed by the Commonwealth Treasurer to the RBA’s Payments System Board in 2013 and again inin 2018. Gina was appointed to the Financial Regulator Assessment Authority in September 2021 and for 10 years Gina was a director on the board of the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation.

Gina chairs the Digital Platforms Board and Financials Service Inquiry Board, and is a member of the Consumer Data Right Committee, Enforcement Committee, Infrastructure Committee and Communication Committee, Mergers Review Committee and the East Coast Gas Market Board, Electricity Markets Inquiry Board and Supermarkets Inquiry Board. Gina is also a member of the Bureau of the OECD Competition Committee.

Gina holds Bachelor of Economics and Laws degrees from the University of Sydney and was a Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley from 1986 to 1987, obtaining a Master of Laws degree, majoring in US competition law, comparative constitutional law, financial institutions regulation and securities regulation.

Gina is the first female Chair of the ACCC since it was established as an independent statutory authority in 1995.