The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 02/02/2005

Interview with Louise Yaxley
ABC AM

Wednesday, 2 February 2005
8.05 am

SUBJECTS: Cartels

TREASURER:

Well the Government will be making a statement today announcing that we will be amending the law so that hard-core cartel conduct will become a crime. And it will become a crime which can lead to imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of $10 million or three times the benefit of the cartel. Now, the object of this is that where businesses agree to dishonestly fix prices in such a way as to rip off consumers, this is a crime, this is an economic crime which is designed to steal money from people through sophisticated conduct. It is harmful for the economy and the law will be amended to recognise that.

YAXLEY:

Does this tell us that there is a big problem of consumers being left out of pocket? Is this a wide spread problem?

TREASURER:

Well, we don’t know if it is a widespread problem. At the moment if there is any cartel conduct it can be prosecuted in a civil sense. But making this a crime will send a very clear message to any senior executives that if they engage in this conduct, they just won’t be liable to lose the benefit, the financial benefit, they will be liable to go to jail. And that indicates how seriously we take this conduct and how seriously we are determined to try and stamp it out.

YAXLEY:

It is aimed at, you used the term ‘hard-core’ and it is aimed at executives, are there exemptions for small business?

TREASURER:

Well, the important thing here I think is that the enforcement authorities go after the major cases and it is our intention that major cases be the focus of investigation. We will be making an announcement in relation to how that will be done. But the important message to send out here is that if there are people who believe that they can secretly engage in this conduct, they should be aware that they are risking imprisonment. And as importantly as that, we are going to announce that those that are prepared to come forward and give evidence will get the leniency policy. The thing about cartel conduct is that by nature it is secret so it is very hard to prove. So as part of these proposals there is going to be a leniency policy which says to anybody who has done it, if you are the first person to report it, you will be the person who gets the leniency, and the person who you have agreed with who hasn’t come forward, will be the one that will be exposed.

YAXLEY:

So is this aimed at deterring the decision from being made in the first place or do you expect to actually see executives sitting in the nation’s gaols?

TREASURER:

Well this is aimed at making sure that this conduct never occurs and if it is occurring it is designed to give an incentive to anybody who has been part of it to stop it and to come forward and to give the evidence because they will be the person who gets the leniency.

YAXLEY:

Although you say, as you say, it is secret and hard to catch, do you believe that this will, to what extent will this make that any easier?

TREASURER:

Oh look, we would be happy if there were no cartels - that is the object - so that consumers are not ripped off, so that money is not taken from them unfairly. The object is to make sure that the conduct never occurs and what I say to people who may have done it or may be thinking of doing it, don’t try it because now you are risking gaol.