Businesses should be aware that competition and consumer laws still apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) released the ACCC 2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities in February 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on 27 March 2020, the ACCC announced that the 2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities will remain in place. However, the ACCC will be prioritising its focus on the competition and consumer issues of most relevance arising from the impact of COVID-19. The ACCC will continue to prioritise product safety, consumer guarantee issues, extreme price gouging for essential products amounting to unconscionable conduct, affordability issues in sectors such as energy, communications and petrol, and business behaviour that seeks to exploit the current crisis to the detriment of other businesses or consumers[i].

The ACCC has established a COVID-19 Taskforce to communicate with businesses and inform them about their obligations in relation to cancellations, refunds and suspension of services as a result of the pandemic[ii]. The ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce is focusing on early intervention to address immediate problems being faced by consumers (such as cancellation of services and failure to obtain refund and remedies) by engaging directly with businesses, relevant state and federal government agencies and consumer and other representative groups, to ensure it can quickly get to the heart of the issues being raised with the ACCC and work to fix them.[iii]

The ACCC will continue to raise community awareness of COVID-19 scams[iv], via ACCC Scamwatch.

Authorisations granted

Businesses seeking to coordinate with competitors during the pandemic in relation to the supply of products still have to receive authorisation to do so.

The interim authorisations the ACCC have granted to date include:

1.  Supermarket operators Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash are authorised to coordinate to ensure consumers have reliable and fair access to fresh food, groceries and other household items, especially following the panic buying experienced during the pandemic[v]. However, the authorisations do not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products[vi].

2.  The Australian Energy Market Operator Limited (‘AEMO’) and AEMO gas and electricity industry participants registered in the National Electricity Market are authorised to coordinate measures to ensure the secure supply of energy to deal with the significant surge in network demand during the pandemic[vii].

3.  The National Broadband Network Co Limited and five retail service providers are authorised to coordinate strategies to manage congestion to deal with the significant surge in network demand during the pandemic[viii]. The retail service providers are Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Hutchinson, TPG and Vocus[ix].

4.  Members of the National Pharmaceutical Services Association are authorised to work together to coordinate the supply, inventory management, logistics and import of essential medication required by consumers and hospitals[x].

5.  Members of the Medical Technology Association of Australia, and suppliers and distributors of medical equipment are authorised to coordinate:

  •  the supply of medical devices such as ventilators, testing kits and protective equipment;
  •  information between the members, suppliers and distributors;
  •  orders and supply requests;
  •  the joint tender to supply COVID-19 medical equipment[xi].

6.  The Australian institute of Petroleum, and its four oil refiner and petroleum marketer members – BP Australia Pty Ltd, Caltex Australia Limited, Mobil Oil Australia Pty Ltd and Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd, are authorised to implement measures to ensure the secure supply of fuel. However, the authorisation does not allow fuel companies to coordinate prices[xii].

7. The Scentre Group and Shopping Centre Council of Australia Limited members are authorised to develop plans to help small business tenants, with an annual turnover of $50 million, during the pandemic. A plan could include offers to defer or reduce rent payments, full or partial waiver of interest payments and extension of lease terms for the length of any rent deferment period[xiii].

For Further Information contact:

Katarina Klaric
Stephens Lawyers & Consultants

Suite 205, 546 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 8636 9100
Fax: (03) 8636 9199
Email: [email protected] 

All Correspondence to:
PO Box 16010
Collins Street West
Melbourne VIC 8007

Disclaimer: This update is not intended to replace obtaining legal advice

Authored by Katarina Klaric,Peter Divitcos and Rochina Iannella, 8 April 2020

Copyright April 2020 — Stephens Lawyers & Consultants.

[i] ACCC, ACCC response to COVID-19 pandemic Media Release, 27 March 2020,

[ii] ACCC, ACCC response to COVID-19 pandemic Media Release, 27 March 2020,

[iii] ACCC, Managing the impact of COVID-19 disruption on consumers and business, Speech delivered by ACCC Chair Mr Rod Sims at Gartner CEO Forum, Media Release, 8 April 2020

[iv] ACCC, ACCC response to COVID-19 pandemic Media Release, 27 March 2020,

[v] ACCC, Coles Group Limited – Application for authorisation AA1000477 Interim authorisation decision, 26 March 2020,

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] ACCC, Australian Energy Marker Operator – Application for authorisation AA1000484 Interim authorisation decision, 3 April 2020,

[viii] ACCC, NBN Co, telcos to coordinate on demand surge and consumer support package Media Release, 1 April 2020,

[ix] ACCC, NBN Co Limited and Ors – application for authorisation AA1000483 Interim authorisation decision, 31 March 2020,

[x] ACCC,National Pharmaceutical Services Association (NPSA) – Application for authorisation AA1000480 Interim authorisation decision, 31 March 2020,

[xi] ACCC, Medical Technology of Australia – Application for authorisation AA1000473 Interim authorisation decision, 25 March 2020,

[xii] ACCC, Australian Institute of Petroleum – Application for authorisation AA1000488 Interim authorisation decision, 3 April 2020,

[xiii] ACCC, Scentre Group and Shopping Council of Australia – Application for authorisation AA1000489 Interim authorisation decision, 3 April 2020,