VHA concerned with proposed watchdog powers

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VHA concerned with proposed watchdog powers

Undesired side effect to regulatory reform.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) has expressed concern over the competition watchdog's newly proposed powers in a submission to an inquiry into the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel previously told iTnews the Federal Government's regulatory reform bill ushered Australia into a "whole new paradigm" for telecommunications regulation, in which the competition watchdog will find it much easier to resolve access disputes.

But general manager of regulatory at VHA, Brian Currie, said the new powers needed to be adjusted.

"We are concerned ... that the move to strengthen and streamline the access regime provides too much discretion to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, with too little accountability," Currie said in VHA's submission to the inquiry [PDF]. "The Commission's decisions should be subject to independent review."

Currie suggested the review "should be undertaken by a body, in our view the Australian Competition Tribunal, that is independent of the evidence-gathering process".

Currie said that the bill should also include provisions for a "merits review of either the Commission's declaration or its determination (or both)" adding that he believed the Commission had a potential conflict of interest "through its role in forming evidence and making a decision based on such evidence".

"While we acknowledge that the Commission typically seeks comments from interested parties prior to making its decisions, we are concerned that the Commission may have an inadvertent bias (or the perception of bias) toward evidence it gathers or forms itself," Currie said.

He added that "the threshold for identifying errors in law is too high when it might be the evidence itself that is in dispute and when there is a potential conflict of interest in how that evidence is considered".

What do you think? Does the ACCC need more powers? What do you think of the current regulatory reforms?

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