Lee questions a representative of the ACCC, Mr Sims, on the creation of a new role within the Commission: the Agricultural Commissioner. The new role and staff will be engaging the agriculture sector. Mr Sims indicated that the Agricultural Commissioner will not be responsible for overseeing issues of compliance, such as live exports.
Senator RHIANNON: The Minister for Agriculture announced that a new role of agriculture commissioner will be created within the ACCC. Could you let us know where the process of setting up that ACCC agricultural unit is up to and the process for appointing the commissioner.
Mr Sims: The unit is established—Gabrielle Ford is the acting head of that unit, with an impeccable dairy background! We are going to staff it with a good proportion of external people who have agricultural experience as well as a good proportion of people who are internal ACCC but with agriculture connections, because that way one and one will make three and we will have the best unit. That is established and we have the ads out to get the external people in. As far as the commissioner is concerned, it is still with the Treasurer and I guess the cabinet to determine that appointment. I know that it is well advanced.
Senator RHIANNON: So we will be advertising within a month for the commissioner, you expect?
Mr Sims: No, it is not an advertisement.
Senator RHIANNON: It is an appointment.
Mr Sims: Step one of the appointment of the commissioner is that the government writes out to the states for nominations—they have done that; those nominations have come back—and now it is up to the cabinet to meet to decide who to appoint. As I understand it there have been discussions around that but it has not yet gone to cabinet.
Senator RHIANNON: And how many staff, overall?
Ms Ford: We are funded for 14 staff.
Senator RHIANNON: And the enforcement and engagement unit?
Mr Sims: That is the 14 staff.
Senator RHIANNON: What can this unit and the commissioner do on the ground? Will you be checking supermarkets for price gouging? Can you give us an idea of the sort of things you'll be doing? Checking on small shops, butchers?
Mr Sims: It is very much agriculture. There are three things we will be doing. One is engaging with the agriculture sector. We have started doing that but obviously it will work much more effectively when the Agriculture Commissioner is on board, just to get a common understanding and also to help the agriculture sector understand the relevant parts of the act that benefit them like collective bargaining, various codes. Secondly, we will do a range of market studies to look at particular supply chains to see whether they are working well or badly and whether there is any anticompetitive behaviour and whether that is a breach of the act or not, but just to give more transparency to how supply chains work, and thirdly we will do our normal enforcement compliance work now. I think the original idea was that we would be out in the regions more. As Senator Edwards said, that sort of behaviour at Barnawartha saleyards has been going on for some time. This would give us the ability to be out there in the regions and gather that evidence and perhaps see that for ourselves in a way that we have not had the resources to do in the past.
Senator RHIANNON: I am very interested in the issue of compliance and the underground work. Considering the hour and there are others to come in I will go to my final question. I noticed that Wellard— possibly the leading live export company—is calling for tougher penalties and for offending exporters to have their export licence suspended. Is that the type of case the ACCC would deal with? Would you be looking at those sorts of things as well? Effectively there is a company here that is saying the marketplace is failing us. That is the criticism they have been making.
Senator XENOPHON: It is a lack of compliance.
Senator RHIANNON: Would that be the sort of thing you would look at?
Mr Sims: We would be dealing with breaches of our act rather than compliance with 'other', and that is a compliance with some other provision, presumably.
Senator RHIANNON: So there would not be any crossover?
Mr Sims: We try to avoid crossover. Where there are other regulations and other bodies to enforce them we do usually leave it to them. Sometimes we are involved in investigations where there are ourselves as well as another body, but that does not quite sound like it would fit enough within our act.