ACCC boss Rod Sims says the competition watchdog will continue to appeal for higher fines against companies who violate Australia’s competition laws, after the Federal Court agreed to increase penalties against Cement Australia and associated companies from $17.1 million to $20.6 million last week.
The ACCC has asked for the $17.1 million fine to be raised to $100 million.
The fine was levied against Cement Australia and its related companies for making and giving effect to anti-competitive agreements via contracts between 2002 and 2006.
The contracts were with the operators of the Millmerran, Tarong, Tarong North and Swanbank power stations, to acquire flyash – a by-product of burning black coal – for use in the cement manufacturing process.
It was alleged by the ACCC that the contracts were organised by Cement Australia to prevent a competitor from entering the market by obtaining direct access to a source of flyash in South East Queensland.
The initial fine of $17.1 million was not seen as sufficient by the ACCC, but the watchdog’s appeal was raised to just $20.6 million by the Full Court of the Federal Court on October 5.
Four Cement Australia companies will be fined: Pozzolanic Enterprises will be fined $2.93 million, Cement Australia (Queensland Pty Ltd) will pay $10.28 million, Cement Australia will pay $7.29 million, and Pozzolanic Industries will be fined a further $100,000.
Despite not getting anything near the fine increase he was after, Sims said the ACCC would continue to go after companies who violate competition policy.
“The penalties imposed in competition cases are hugely important in deterring anti-competitive conduct, which is why we appealed the original penalties given to Cement Australia,” Sims said.
“The ACCC will continue to make submissions to the courts for higher penalties to be imposed for anti-competitive conduct.
“The ACCC needs to ensure that penalties act as an effective deterrent for the business concerned and are not simply viewed by large corporations as a cost of doing business.”