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ACCC: ‘We Cannot Stop Price Gouging, But New Biosecurity Act Powers Will Protect Some Products’

Today, in a speech made at the Gartner CEO Forum, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said that although the commission has received a large number of complaints about excessive pricing around protective equipment (such as face masks and sanitiser), as well as other grocery items, “the ACCC cannot prevent or take action to stop excessive pricing, as it has no role in setting prices”.

However, the ACCC reiterated that any sellers making false claims about products will be in breach of Australian Consumer Law.

During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been numerous reports of price gouging on high-demand items such as toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitisers on market places such as Amazon and eBay, as well as at smaller retailers in Australia.

While the ACCC cannot stop excessive pricing, the Australian Federal Police was recently given new powers under the Biosecurity Act, which should help prevent price gouging on medical goods needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under these new powers, it is now an offence to resell or offer to resell a select list of products at 20% or higher than the original price paid if they were purchased in a retail transaction.

This list of products includes disposable gloves, disposable gowns, goggles, alcohol wipes, hand sanitiser, and glasses or eye visors that are used to limit the transmission of organisms to humans.

Although it may not have the power to prevent or prohibit excessive pricing, the ACCC has said that they have engaged with Amazon, Facebook, eBay and Gumtree to understand what the companies are doing to combat price gouging.

Sims said, “We have received some assurances the platforms have mechanisms in place, but are encouraging increased vigilance and will continue to monitor.”

In terms of grocery items, the ACCC has received a number of concerns about the high prices of some fresh produce items. However, the commission has stated that the although unprecedented demand for supermarket goods has created some shortages, the higher prices are likely due to the drought and bushfire season, rather than excessive pricing by retailers.

“Higher fresh produce prices had been predicted as early as January due to the drought and the bushfires, which have contributed to a supply shortage and led to higher prices for some items,” Sims said.

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