This year’s event, the Commission’s fourth, featured Han Li Toh, Chief Executive of Singapore’s Competition and Consumer Commission, Brent Snyder, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Competition Commission and John Pecman, until recently the Canadian Commissioner of Competition.

They were joined by Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC) Commissioners Cristina Cifuentes, Sarah Court and Delia Rickard who contributed to a number of panel discussions.

The conference covered a range of regulation, competition and consumer topics – from whether penalties are high enough in New Zealand, to business activities of regulated monopolies, to responsible advertising, responsible lending and – of course – competition issues in the new digital economy.

The release of the ACCC’s long-awaited Digital Platforms Inquiry coincided with the final afternoon of Competition Matters 2019, unfortunately this meant Rod Sims, Chair of the ACCC was not able to join us.

“The release of the ACCC’s report shows just how timely and relevant this year’s conference was. There was some feverish scrolling of phones on the Friday afternoon as the report landed,” said Commission Chair Anna Rawlings.

“Many of the issues addressed in the ACCC’s report were highly relevant to those we were debating at Competition Matters. There is no doubt that regulation and competition law issues are prominent in this age of the digital giants, and our conference was a fantastic forum to discuss some of those issues,” said Ms Rawlings.Dr David Halpern Competition Matters 2019 session

The opening keynote address was from Dr David Halpern of the UK’s Behavioural Insights team, or ‘Nudge Unit’. He challenged participants to use behavioural insights to improve the effectiveness of regulation and to influence consumer behaviour. He drew on a range of examples illustrating influences on consumer decision making. For example, he showed how simple design changes to forms can greatly increase engagement, but also noted an experiment where 98% of student participants happily signed up to online terms and conditions where they agreed to give away their first-born child.

Dr Halpern also participated in a panel discussion about responsible lending. Panellists discussed potential interventions to encourage responsible lending, while recognising that some borrowers’ circumstances make them vulnerable to unsuitable credit products and irresponsible lending practices.

For the Salvation Army, Ronji Tanielu observed that people in desperate situations often do not make good choices, that often all the available options are undesirable for them, and can be worse when combined with the unconscionable predatory practices of some lenders.

Renowned British regulator Professor Martin Cave spoke as part of a panel looking at what successful economic regulation looks like, warning of three challenges to regulators: culture, capture (by producers) and cognitive failure.

Consumer engagement is a current focus for the Commission’s Regulation Branch and another panel explored some recent Australian and UK experiences with engaging consumers in regulatory decisions that affect price and service quality.

“I am extremely proud of the work done by Commission staff to pull this year’s conference together. For those of us in the competition, consumer and regulation world it was an exceptional event,” said Ms Rawlings.

Keynote speaker Dr David Halpern of the UK Behavioural Insights unit challenges audience members to stare into each other’s eyes and observe what happens. Commission Chair Anna Rawlings and James Every-Palmer QC participate in the experiment.

Keynote speaker Dr David Halpern of the UK Behavioural Insights unit challenges audience members to stare into each other’s eyes and observe what happens. Commission Chair Anna Rawlings and James Every-Palmer QC participate in the experiment.