Greens warn Labor over competition law

The Greens have warned Labor not to get in bed with big business when competition laws come before the Senate.


Labor had a win in the Senate on Thursday, with the removal of barriers to small businesses taking court action against anti-competitive behaviour from big business.

The private bill would allow Federal Court judges to waive small business liability to pay the huge legal fees of big business if it challenges anti-competitive behaviour in court.

The bill will need to be passed by the lower house in order to become law, which is unlikely given the government holds the majority in that chamber.

The Greens supported the legislation but warned Labor not to use it as an excuse to oppose competition laws due to be debated in the upper house next week.

The so-called “effects test” bill strengthens rules that prevent companies with substantial market power engaging in conduct that harms competition.

Labor has already vowed to oppose the bill.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson suggested Labor was opposing the changes to protect its funding from big business.

He warned the opposition would be “jumping into bed with big business” if it opposed the legislation.

“I hope that the ALP aren’t going to use this as an excuse to get out of supporting a change to section 46,” he said.

It was no good helping small businesses take their cases to court without fixing laws that make it nearly impossible for them to win, he said.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said Thursday’s legislation would empower small business, urging the government to support it.

“We know that all too often, small businesses don’t take on the big end of town, despite the fact they may actually have a strong case,” she told parliament.

“They can’t afford the risks of the costs of going to court.”

It’s been welcomed by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, who said access to justice was an important issue for small businesses.

“This has the added benefit of filtering cases that might potentially be considered vexatious or unlikely to succeed, saving time and money for all involved,” she said.

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack accused Labor of crying “crocodile tears”, insisting it should support the effects test changes if it is genuinely interested in levelling the playing field.