Monday, 27 March 2017

Still stuck

So here's the state of play.

The Commerce Commission can't do "market studies", proactive inquiries into the state of competition in particular sectors or industries. That's because of a historical - and in my view strange and misguided - court decision, but the Commission is lumbered with it in any event.

The Commission's overlord, MBIE, can do market studies. It's been asked to do one on petrol prices. So the policy Ministry will be doing the operational work, and the operational agency will be sucking its thumb.

And on top of this strange demarcation process, while MBIE has talented people, they're starting near ground zero, while competition analysis is the Commerce Commission's day job, and it's good at it.

It's a botch and a bungle, in sum. Which is why allowing the Commerce Commission to do market studies has been one of the agenda items on MBIE's mini-review of the Commerce Act.

But that appears to have gone to ground. As I've noted before, it's one of a number of competition reforms that have run out of oomph in the past few years.

Meanwhile the Aussies just press ahead: I read in today's Australian Financial Review that their government is "ordering the competition watchdog to conduct a review into retail electricity prices" (article here though it may be paywalled). No judicial nitpicking for them over asking their competition authority to do something that should obviously be within its remit.

It's possible that the change of bums on seats as Minister of Commerce may be holding things up. The previous Minister, Paul Goldsmith, had gone round the traps and taken soundings about the mini-review of the Commerce Act, and may well have been on the verge of pressing some buttons. It's possible that the new Minister, Jacqui Dean, is still forming her own views.

But once everyone's got their heads around the issues, could we, finally, see some progress on some long overdue improvements to our competition regime?

1 comment:

  1. I'm put in mind of a letter to the editor published in the NBR back in the late-80s that referred to the Commerce Commission as "...a toothless old crone sitting in the corner mumbling platitudes". But, of course, the ComCom doesn't write the legisaltion. Plus ca change...

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