Australia's approach to emerging threats to the taxi
industry, as well as the intersection of big data and individual
privacy, could be reshaped if some of the final recommendations of
the far-reaching Harper Review into competition policy are adopted
by the federal government.
The final report of the Harper Competition Policy Review,
released on March 31, has opened the way for deregulation of many
industries subject to digital disruption, and greater consumer
control of personal information to inform purchasing decisions. The
review also adopts European and US trends regarding consumer access
to big data.
It is clear that the technology sector has been singled out for
special attention. The Competition Policy Review Panel – led
by eminent economist Professor Ian Harper – was asked to
consider whether existing rules adequately addressed competition
issues in new technologies and emerging markets, particularly
The terms of reference sought to promote entrepreneurship and
innovation, as part of a wide-ranging review into Australian
competition law and policy over the last 12 months. The context to
the review, and inherent in the 56 final recommendations, is a
desire to reinvigorate competition and bolster Australia's
By addressing the potential deregulation of some industries
currently subject to disruption, the panel is seeking to ensure
that regulation strikes the right balance between promoting
innovation and entrepreneurship, while preserving consumer
safeguards and preventing anti-competitive behaviour.
Not only has the Panel focussed on the simplification of
Australia's competition regulation, it has also focussed on
identifying those sectors where existing regulation may be outdated
Of particular interest are the panel's comments on taxi
regulation and licensing. The global taxi industry has been one of
the most vocal opponents of internet-based disruptive business
models over the last 12 months, leading to regulatory and
industrial action, and intense lobbying in many countries. While
transport is by no means the only sector subject to disruption, it
is a sector historically subjected to intense government
The report recommends that taxis and ride sharing should be a
priority area for regulatory review in Australia. Ride-sharing apps
such as Uber, and booking apps such as GoCatch and ingogo, are each
mentioned. The panel expressly comments that the "longstanding
failure to reform taxi regulation has undermined the credibility of
governments' commitment to competition policy more
broadly". It makes similar observations in relation to other
The panel also recommended that consumers be given access to
their personal information to inform their purchasing decisions. It
is seeking to efficiently deliver to consumers the detailed
information captured by business about their consumption behaviour,
empowering consumers to better identify their optimal provider and
to confidently exercise their switching choice. The panel refers to
its recommendations as "Informed Choice".
Australia's privacy legislation already enables consumers to
request their personal information in an ad hoc manner. The essence
of the panel's recommendation is a standardised platform for
efficient data sharing that provides consumers with relevant,
trusted and accurate information. Examples include comparator
websites, such as energymadeeasy.com.au and iSelect.com.au. The
panel recommends that the proposed new Australian Council for
Competition Policy establish a working group that is tasked with
developing a partnership agreement.
Interestingly, Informed Choice uses competition policy to
justify the sharing of the big data increasingly captured by
innovative techniques and applications. The panel's
recommendations are novel for Australia, but reflect recent
developments in the US and UK.
The US government has established a "Smart Disclosure"
agenda to drive the release of public and private sector data to
assist consumers in energy, healthcare and finance. The UK
Government is similarly promoting "Midata" as a voluntary
program between government, businesses, consumer groups, regulators
and trade bodies. Such programs seek to leverage modern information
technology to stimulate competition and innovation.
In Australia, Treasury has called for public submissions on
Harper's recommendations by May 26, after which the federal
government will give its response. Those with a stake in the
technology sector would do well to make their voices heard.
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