Colin Brinsden, 25 November 2015

THE head of a respected think tank has dismissed concerns that introducing a controversial element in the Turnbull government’s reforms to competition laws would create a “lawyers’ picnic”.

THE government handed down its formal response to the Harper review into competition law on Tuesday, supporting 44 of its 56 recommendations, while remaining open to the other 12.

One of these surrounds the contentious issue of the misuse-of-market-power, otherwise known as the “effects test”.

It aims to get rid of the “take advantage” element from the law and instead introduce a test of whether a business is substantially lessening competition.

Opponents believe it will become a litigation nightmare.

But Grattan Institute head John Daley has dismissed predictions lawyers will be the winners.

“There are plenty of other countries in which competition lawyers aren’t any more plentiful or any better paid than they are in Australia and they have an effects test in operation,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer says the government will release a discussion paper on the issue and consult business by March 2016.

Former small business minister Bruce Billson, who will quit politics at the next election, is a keen supporter of the effects test.

He argues competition should be about “merit, not muscle” and existing laws to prevent misuse of market power didn’t work and needed reform.

“If we want an open, enterprising, agile economy you have to welcome new starters,” Mr Billson told Sky News.

Ms O’Dwyer also defended the government’s decision to put off any move to deregulate pharmacies that would remove restrictions on ownership and location until at least 2017.

“This is certainly up for discussion and review when the next opportunity comes up,” Ms O’Dwyer, who is also the small business minister, told Sky News.

The government has just signed an agreement with the Pharmacy Guild to an independent public review of pharmacy remuneration and regulation, with a final report due by March 2017.

Liberal backbencher David Coleman said the competition reforms were about productivity, which in turn was the “root to success” for economic growth.

Similar reforms 20 years ago resulted in the economy expanding by two per cent or $30 billion in today’s dollars, he told reporters.

Extracted in full from The Australian.