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ACCC: ‘Mainly Bad, But Some Good From COVID-19’

In his virtual address to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said that while many challenging circumstances have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some positives for consumers.

The positive impacts have mainly been felt in the form of improved energy prices for small businesses and consumers. “One rare positive to come from this pandemic is that the wholesale electricity and gas prices are falling significantly. These falls need to be passed on to businesses that rely on energy,” Sims said.

This has been supported by the ACCC granting the Australian Energy Council (as well as wholesale and retail energy businesses) temporary authorisation to provide financial relief for business customers that have been hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

The trend of falling energy prices should continue to support Australian businesses as the economy makes its recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. “As Australia comes out of this crisis we will need our energy prices to fall significantly if we are to have the recovery we need,” Sims said.

However, Sims also stated that the ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce has been flooded with requests for help.

Given the stock shortages caused by COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, there have been many complaints made in the retail space.

“We are already engaging with some large businesses about allegations they are deliberately choosing not to pay their suppliers, or demanding large discounts off goods already delivered, and also delaying payments significantly, and that they should cease the conduct immediately,” Sims said.

As part of efforts to help retailers survive the economic downturn, the ACCC granted retailers temporary authorisation to collectively bargain during COVID-19. It is hoped that this leveraged bargaining power will work in tandem with the federal government’s mandatory commercial leasing code of conduct during COVID-19.

The ACCC is also investigating concerns that smaller grocery and convenience stores are missing out on supplies that appear to now be readily available to the country’s larger supermarkets.

Indeed, over the past week both Coles and Woolworths have begun to roll back purchase limits on products. In addition, today Coles announced that it would be implementing more normal trading hours from this Friday, with 200 stores opening at 6am again.

“We need to maintain strong competition in the retail sector to ensure economic recovery once the pandemic subsides,” Sims said.

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