[AMA] I Used to Work at The ACCC!

In the spirit of all the current AMA's, and also in the spirit of the ACCC being brought up every third post here on my favourite forum, I thought I'd do an AMA.

Again, I'm happy to answer any questions which are not of a personal nature (nothing identifying, there are enough ex-ACCC employees that I doubt I'm identifiable just from that), and nothing pertaining to internal operations at the ACCC which I may not be allowed to comment on.

As always, my views are completely my own and I don't purport to represent the ACCC in any capacity. Fire away!

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  •  

    How many people actually work in customer service? I feel like every time I’ve phoned I’ve had a wait of at least an hour, and my emails never get responded to. I just always assumed it was due to a low number of staff.

    •  

      I genuinely have no idea about this. I didn't work in the call centre. I agree - it's probably due to low number of staff.

  •  

    I'll bite.

    Did you refer (internally) to certain businesses by their colourful nicknames? I.e. "Jim, what's the status on the Hardly Normal case?" "Still wrapping up the Vodafail file."

    •  

      Formally, no, but amongst colleagues, yes, just like how I would when referring to those businesses with friends. I don't think anyone went out of their way to be extra colourful.

  • +3 votes

    Why hasn't the ACCC done anything about eBay and the price jackers every time there's a 20% off selected sellers promo?

    • +1 vote

      I think there's two ways I can answer this.

      The first is that it's a very fringe issue and not really at the centre of what the ACCC does. For example, when I was at the ACCC, I spent most of my time looking at mergers, regulation of public utilities (e.g. energy, telecommunications…), looking at collusion in petrol markets, competition…etc. There were other teams who focused on things like product safety, recalls and things of that nature.

      Compared with all of these things, the issue of eBay prices is just not that central. There have been cases where the ACCC has stepped in with regards to fining retailers (Kogan comes to mind), but those were very different cases. The Kogan case was very much cut and dry from a legal perspective (that's from what the lawyers say, I'm not a lawyer). Overall, it's also important to note that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of what the ACCC does is not running after misbehaving retailers. Most of their work would be around things like economic regulation.

      The second way to look at it is that it's not a very cut and dry case at all. I'm not an expert in ACL (my work was regulatory, not enforcement of ACL), but from my discussion with people who know more about ACL than me, it seems to be the case that what the eBay sellers are doing may not be in breach of ACL and hence, it would be difficult to build up this legal case. I can discuss further if you like.

      •  

        This should be right up your alley.

        Do you think the proposed merger of voda and TPG, will go ahead? Do you think it’s good for competition (given the need to challenge the big two and investment required to do so).?

        And maybe more broadly, what do you think of the telecommunications landscape, many thoughts I read believe NBN won’t stand when 5G comes online and becomes a more viable alternative. Thought the counter view is mobile data transfer (5G included) can’t handle the volumes involved with fixed line.

        •  

          I'd be surprised if it doesn't, the telco market has already been consolidated so much, if the ACCC were going to put their foot down they should have done it a long time ago. It would allow the new merged company to properly compete with telstra and optus. Both companies had plans to move into each others spaces anyway (TPG building a mobile network, voda offering internet)

          People are always saying wireless will destroy wired networks, but I don't expect to see that ever happen in our lifetime. If the NBN wasn't such a shitshow, you can see other countries already offering gigabit over their fibre, and it will continue to increase.

        • +5 votes

          I think it will. It's likely that Vodafone will use the "failing firm" defence, arguing that they will fail if not acquired. Vodafone is easily in the worst position compared to Telstra and Optus right now. They've never made a profit since entering the market in Australia.

          It seems like there are two reasons:

          1) Vodafone has a much smaller customer share. When their customers call customers of other providers, Vodafone has to pay a "network termination" fee to the provider of the person receiving the call. This makes it very difficult for smaller guys to compete. In other countries, they have a "receiver pays" model, so if someone on Vodafone calls someone on Telstra, it'll be Telstra that pays Vodafone. This is much more conducive to competition.

          2) Vodafone have no physical lines. When I was at the ACCC, they had to buy wholesale from Telstra just to get data to their towers. I'm not sure what the situation now is with the NBN. Vodafone bet big with the whole "wireless is the future" thing, this just hasn't come to fruition for them.

          This is just the economic rationale why Vodafone is failing. There are plenty of other non-economic reasons, e.g. their worse coverage…etc.

          And maybe more broadly, what do you think of the telecommunications landscape, many thoughts I read believe NBN won’t stand when 5G comes online and becomes a more viable alternative. Thought the counter view is mobile data transfer (5G included) can’t handle the volumes involved with fixed line.

          Wireless networks are too easily saturated. That's the issue we face right now. When 4G was first launched, it was great, but in the city centre now, 4G is slow because of network saturation. So much so that sometimes it might be better to get on the 3G network instead. That's on top of many areas not even being covered by 4G. It will take years for 5G to even reach where 4G is now.

          Even if you look at places around the world with the best internet, wireless just hasn't taken off. You'd assume that cities like Tokyo, Seoul, London…etc. with much higher population densities than we have here in AU would be the first cities to try replacing wired with wireless (most favourable conditions), but none really have.

  •  

    Why did you leave?

  •  

    What do you think the ACCC should be doing, but aren't (for whatever reason)?

    •  

      This is a really good question.

      From a more overarching perspective, I'm not too sure because the ACCC is huge in its scope and I can't even begin to even consider all of the things that they could potentially be interested in.

      From a more "internal operations" perspective, I think that the ACCC should focus more on quantitative modelling. In terms of data analysis and quantitative methods, I think they're a bit behind the industry. This is probably because they tend to be more interested in hiring economists and lawyers as opposed to statisticians, scientists…etc. Hopefully this is something that will get better as time progresses as the newer recruits tend to have much stronger quantitative skills (it's become more core to an economics degree over time). Full disclosure, I consider myself a quant guy, so my view on this may be biased.

  •  

    Without stalking and reading through your 2331 comments, did you ever tell people here on how to make sure guide them in a way that they'll win ACCC cases?

  •  

    Even though we have great consumer laws they are hard to enforce if the supplier doesnt cooperate
    Unless you’re prepared to go to the tribunal at a cost then a consumer doesn’t have any leverage.
    Making a complaint to the ACCC doesn’t reap any compensation either.

    Am I missing something? Seems flawed since fair trading are only arbitrary

    •  

      What you're referring to here is largely the domain of your state's Consumer Affairs. For example, in VIC, we have Consumer Affairs Victoria. Furthermore, there are options to take it to the tribunals, as you say. It's untrue that the consumer doesn't have any leverage. It's probably where you would have the most leverage.

      It's actually not the role of the ACCC to resolve individual consumer complaints and hence, even if you complained to the ACCC, I doubt that they would be able to do much about it, apart from keeping your complaints on file for action when complaints are too high. For example, if you refer to https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-protection/where-..., it specifically states:

      Contact the ACCC for information about your consumer rights and obligations, and possible courses of action you might take. While we don’t resolve individual complaints, we will use the information you provide to help us understand what issues are causing the most harm to Australian business and consumers, and where to focus our compliance and enforcement efforts.

      • +1 vote

        Exactly….
        No leverage at all

        I’ll give you an example that can happen

        I buy a faulty product ( eg $100)
        They refuse a remedy
        I go to fair trading who don’t have any power and the retailer also refuse a remedy

        Now I need to go to the tribunal to enforce ACL. I’m going to need to take a day off work, pay tribunal and filing fees (approx $60) stress out, spend time preparing and researching my case all for the retailer to ask for an adjournment. Take another day off, spend $50 in travel costs and parking costs etc etc

        All for a $100 product

        •  

          Could you perhaps suggest a better way for this situation to be resolved?

          • +1 vote

            @p1 ama: Fair trading to have imposing powers

            •  

              @Peanut money: quite often they contact the company involved to see try to get them to do something out of good will. and often companies do, for a faulty products anyway. especially if it is an item of low value.

              There is a difference between consumer rights and consummer thinking they are right.

  • +1 vote

    could you drink as much coca-cola as you wanted?

    •  

      The fridge is always stocked up, I think we were supposed to contribute to some jar whenever we took a can, but I ended up just buying a 30 pack whenever it was on sale and putting that back in the fridge. Overall, I probably put more cans in than I took out.

  •  

    Optus, are they recognized for being useless at customer service?

    • +1 vote

      I was an economist, so I'm actually not too sure. Either way, the ACCC doesn't "police" bad customer service (it's not against ACL to have "bad" customer service, as long as they fulfil their obligations). All I know about Optus is that they were very smart for putting copper and HFC lines in the ground rather than hiring from Telstra. A lot of work we did was investigating Telstra's behaviour in regards to wholesale pricing. All of this is moot now with the NBN though.

  • +2 votes
    1. Okay a random one, if I bought an item thats covered under ACL (say a $1000 Mobile phone) which I assume approx 2 years to get it repaired/replaced. Lets say after 1 year I get it replaced under ACL, is the new phone only have 1 year left over or does it restart to two since its a new item?

    2. Do you feel that the ACCC is pretty ballsy, I know some people have various experiences but I've noticed that they've fined MSY, Steam etc which I personally felt was pretty ballsy for a gov agency.

    3. Did you enjoy it there? Do they have a lot of innovative technology? Or is it more dealing with cases and legal law?

    4. Does the ACCC have much of a hold on intl companies? Or is it very much, we can only recommend but they're out of jurisdiction.

    • +3 votes
      1. Again, I'm not an expert in ACL (I'm not a lawyer), but the strict definition is that if the usable life of a product is 2 years, then it doesn't matter if it was never replaced or replaced 5 times in that period, the useable life is still 2 years. In other words, if something fails at 1.9 years and you get it replaced and it breaks in 1.9 years time, you're not entitled to another replacement. Some companies might be generous and still award you that replacement.

      2. Fining MSY is not really that "ballsy" compared to other things that the ACCC does. The regulation that's imposed on public utilities (e.g. telecommunications, energy providers…) are much harsher and "ballsier" than any fine on MSY or Kogan. Also other cases I was involved with (especially mergers) were much higher stakes than the fines imposed on retailers.

      3. It was great, I enjoyed it there, but the pace was often quite slow. It's very much like what you imagine a government agency to be. I'd say "law" is a very small part of what they do. Over 90% of what the ACCC does is not the parts that are highly publicised (i.e. consumer protection). Most of it is economic analysis. Most of it is dealing with regulated firms…etc.

      4. I've never come across a case with an international company, though I have colleagues who have worked on such cases.

  •  

    I'm of the personal opinion that ACCC is just a statistics company, looking an investigating statistical outliers. It doesnt chase up individual cases.

    Am i correct in this assumption?

    •  

      I'm of the personal opinion that ACCC is just a statistics company, looking an investigating statistical outliers.

      I'm not sure what you mean by this. Most of the work of the ACCC has nothing to do with chasing up individual offenders of ACL. Over 90% of the ACCC's work has to do with regulation of public utilities, mergers and acquisitions, competition law…etc.

      It doesnt chase up individual cases.

      By individual, I assume you mean individual consumer complaints. If this is what you're referring to, then yes. Individual consumer complaints are handled by Consumer Affairs, not the ACCC.

      However, you could also call things like petrol price fixing "individual" cases. Those are the sorts of things that the ACCC investigates.

      •  

        cheers for the clarification.

        Just when someone complains about a faulty product, the general response is ACCC then ACA.

        •  

          For example, if you refer to https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-protection/where-..., it specifically states:

          Contact the ACCC for information about your consumer rights and obligations, and possible courses of action you might take. While we don’t resolve individual complaints, we will use the information you provide to help us understand what issues are causing the most harm to Australian business and consumers, and where to focus our compliance and enforcement efforts.

  •  

    What's your education and previous experience like?

    • +2 votes

      Bachelor's, Master's and PhD in Economics. Prior to the ACCC, I was an economic consultant. I did mostly quantitative and development work, including projects for aid organisations and foreign governments (developing countries) modelling things like economic and population growth. I now work in economic research and teaching.

  • -1 vote

    Was it ever like the ACCC CCC…C on the Checkout?

  •  

    What advice would you give a graduate trying to enter the ACCC or a similar organisation?

    • +1 vote

      I'd say definitely be aware of the regulatory cases that have come up recently and anything that has to do with regulation that's in the news. Those are the sorts of things that often come up in interviews. I still remember my interview at the ACCC where I quoted things that I had read in the news that the ACCC was involved in and they seemed to appreciate that.

      Apart from that, they tend to hire from a wide variety of disciplines, e.g. economics, law, finance…etc., but are generally looking for at least honours graduates or above. They also tend to hire quite late, so it means that you tend to have a better chance as most of the competition have already been hired.

  •  

    Is the ACCC funded by any organizations that they govern, ie a conflict of interest where the company's that you provide rulings over actually pay the ACCC in ANY way?

    •  

      Well, I guess you could say that they are funded by everyone because they are funded by tax. But if you mean directly, then no. Also, I think it's important to note that the ACCC does not "provide rulings", that's what courts do.

  •  

    Why was the ACCC so helpless with the ford clutch issue, ie if a consumer buys a product and they did not know that it had a problem, and they would not have bought it if they did - then they are entitled to a reefund but the ACCC just fined ford and gave bugger all advice to anyone what their rights were under consumer law?

    •  

      The ACCC does not have the power to make Ford issue refunds or anything of the sort.

      There is a division of the ACCC (product safety) which manages product recalls and ensure that all products sold meet safety guidelines. The most they can do is take products off shelves if they're deemed unsafe. However, the only body that can actually enforce any sort of action by Ford are the courts (and tribunals).

      •  

        So true

        So many armchair experts here reply by saying report them to ACCC or state ACL, don’t buy extended warranties etc etc but the truth is big companies comply with ACL only to prevent bad publicity

        They can play hardball eg thermomix and consumers will get “ burnt “out by the first stage of the resolution process

  •  

    With the current regulations around credit card surcharges is there a way to report a business that is overcharging on their surcharges? Does this get investigated at all or does ACCC only care about the big fish?

    •  

      The ACCC does not regulate the banking sector, this is regulated by APRA.

      •  

        I know that, yet according to ACCC they have the power to enforce the ban on excessive surcharging…

        https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/excessive-payment-surc...

        •  

          I just had a look at that, it looks like what's happened is that they've been given the authority (once off) to enforce this new ban. This has come into effect after I left, so I haven't had the chance to talk to anyone about it.

          It looks like something that the "enforcement" team would be looking at. It's hard to say whether things will get investigated. You're probably right in saying that it's more likely to be big fish. I think it has to be something that is somewhat systemic and widespread.

          Would they investigate some corner shop? Probably not.

  •  

    Can ACCC do something about the inability of consumers to import motor vehicles without way too much restrictions? There is too much lobbying from the dealers and we are paying through the roof for crappier cars.

    •  

      No, the ACCC does not regulate the importation of cars. This is a matter for the Department of Infrastructure (and other things, but I can't remember what they are). So in short, no the ACCC can't do anything about this.

  •  

    Are media releases closely guarded before being deployed, how many people would have access to this information before it is released to the general public?

    Has any personnel been caught "utilizing" confidential information before being announced to the masses?

    •  

      Yes, media releases can be sensitive. This is no different to a sensitive media release by any other company. I would say that most people at the ACCC would know these sorts of things, but then and again, it's not a spy agency.

      Also, like with any other job, you would have to declare any conflicts of interest that you may have. I'm not aware of anybody who has used unreleased information for personal gain. The risks are similar to most other financial firms.

  •  

    aye triple sea

  •  

    Why didn't ACCC hire me when I was a fresh grad? Otherwise it would have been me doing AMA now :(

    •  

      You can always get hired down the line. That said, I do think the ACCC has a pretty good graduate program out of the ones I've seen.

  •  

    Hi p1, Thanks for doing the AMA.
    I understand that ACL is not your field of expertise, but hopefully I have a simple question.

    I have an eBay account which I mostly use to purchase Ozbargain stuff. However from time to time I also use the account to sell some unwanted stuff. I've sold only a couple of items.
    I am an individual and don't have any business intention with making money through eBay.
    I had a buyer who purchased in item 11.5 months ago through offerring a price lower than my 'buy it now' price.
    Recently he filed a complaint with ACCC (in another state) saying that the item is no longer working and he wants a replacement.
    ACCC has my paypal email address and eBay receipt showing the transaction (I think). The other details that they have are incorrect as it came from eBay.

    By ACL law, is he entitled for a replacement even though I do not conduct any business?
    The item was originally purchased from Amazon FR and the original warranty has already expired.

    What should I do?

    Thank you very much.

    • +1 vote

      In this case you should do nothing. He is not entitled for a replacement as second hand goods are usually sold as is.

  •  

    Hi OP, can anyone work for ACCC?

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