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Business welcomes competition review

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Business groups believe the first major review of competition laws in more than 20 years has the potential to improve the way the Australian economy works.

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson released the final terms of reference for the review on Thursday, while appointing economist Ian Harper to lead the inquiry.

It will look at consumer protections, anti-competitive conduct and business regulation across state and federal governments.

“The Harper review will help identify ways to build the economy and promote investment, growth, job creation and durable benefits for consumers,” Billson told reporters in Canberra.

The other panel members are Regional Australia Institute chief Su McCluskey, former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson and lawyer Michael O’Bryan, a past chairman of the Competition and Consumer Law Committee of the Law Council of Australia.

The previous review was led by Fred Hilmer in 1993.

Labor spokesman for competition Dr Andrew Leigh welcomed any steps that will help customers.

But he noted that while the panel members were distinguished Australians, there was an absence of any consumer voice.

“Labor will be judging the review by this simple yardstick: will it make life easier for everyday Australians?” Leigh said.

However, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott called it an impressive panel with the right mix of skills and experience.

“At a time when Australia’s competitiveness is under threat across a number of fronts, it will be important that the review takes up the opportunity to strip away impediments to competition, whether they are found at the commonwealth, state or local government level,” she said.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the terms of reference were extraordinarily broad.

“It has the potential to make a real difference in building a case for improving the way our economy works,” he told a regulatory reform conference in Canberra.

Billson said there could be competing interests when working out what was best for competition and for consumers, but he wanted the panel to look at the broader considerations for the long-term welfare of the Australian community and economy.

A discussion paper will be released within a month and the panel is expected to finish its review in 12 months, although Billson is willing to stretch the timetable depending on what issues arise.

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