The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has entered eight oil and petrol company sites after receiving information that led it to believe that the companies had engaged in conduct that may have contravened the Australian Trade Practices Act of 1974. Another three sites were entered during the course of the day. The act itself, in broad terms, covers anti-competitive and unfair market practices.
‘The information was in part obtained from an informant from within an oil company who first contacted the ACCC in December’, ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said. ‘The informant remains anonymous and the ACCC would still like the informant to contact it.’
‘The ACCC considered that the information provided by the informant could not be ignored, was serious and required further investigation. The ACCC does not have power to enter premises unless in the words of section 155 of the Act ‘it has reason to believe that there may have been a contravention of the Act’. The ACCC did form this belief and would have been prepared to defend this belief before the Federal Court if it had been challenged.’
‘The sites visited included premises of Caltex, Mobil and Shell and distribution companies in Sydney, Melbourne and the Newcastle area. More than 90 ACCC staff, including legal officers and people with IT skills, were involved in the exercise.’
‘This is the largest operation of this type that the ACCC has undertaken, and the first time the ACCC has undertaken a multi-site exercise.’
‘The ACCC took these measures because of the serious nature of the information received. We wished to act swiftly to secure documents which may be crucial to our further investigations’.
The inspection and copying of documents will continue at three sites. The ACCC will be pursuing further inquiries following this operation. It will be some time, months not weeks, before the outcome of the investigation will be known. Whatever the outcome is, it will be made known publicly. There will not, however, be a running commentary on progress of the investigation in the meantime.
‘We appreciated the co-operation that we are receiving from all of the companies in facilitating the inspection by our staff’, Professor Fels said.