Jail terms for price-fixers
By Vincent Morello
January 11, 2008 03:27pm
PEOPLE found guilty of price-fixing could face jail terms of up to five years under beefed-up legislation proposed by the Federal Government.
The Government today released draft legislation to amend the Trade Practices Act, adding jail terms and harsher fines for companies and individuals who engage in serious cartel conduct.
Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen said that under the amendments, people convicted of cartel conduct could face up to five years' jail and/or fines of up to $220,000.
At present, there is no provision in the Act for the jailing of anyone proven to have engaged in cartel behaviour.
"The Government intends to criminalise serious cartel conduct to send a very clear message to the business people who engage in such behaviour - cartel activity is theft, it is a form of stealing from consumers," Mr Bowen said.
"While these reforms are a vital step in promoting competitive markets, they also provide important protection for small businesses, consumers, who are often the ones who bear the cost of cartel conduct."
The move by Labor to attack predatory pricing and other anti-competitive behaviour is part of the Government's plan to monitor grocery prices and act against profiteering by fuel companies.
Regarding fuel prices, Mr Bowen said it was very difficult to prove "one particular action has had an effect on petrol prices".
"But the Government does have in place a series of measures to ensure that people aren't paying one cent more than they need to."
He said rising world oil prices were presently having a major impact on petrol prices.
The consumer watchdog and the director of public prosecutions have reached an agreement about what would constitute a serious cartel activity and what would validate possible prosecution.
The draft legislation is open for public comment until the end of February and should be implemented by the end of the year.