Australia versus Big Business
Marriott, Cherie, Global Finance
In a country where the notion of giving everyone a "fair go" is embedded in the national psyche, it is not surprising that Australia's competition watchdog has some pretty sharp teeth. With its mission of protecting the underdog and ensuring that no one company monopolizes a market of just 17 million people, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has its work cut out. But in recent months eyebrows have been raised over the lengths it has taken to protect the little Aussie battler.
The ACCC's first contentious case involved a decision to scuttle a A$1.5 billion (US$975 million) hostile bid by Cable &Wireless Optus to take over the country's third-largest telecommunications operator AAPI. C&W Optus, a 52%-owned subsidiary of the British telecommunications giant and the second-largest operator in Australia, wanted to consolidate its position in the market by consuming AAN. But the ACCC vetoed the deal on the grounds that it would have "removed a vigorous and effective competitor from the market."
The chief executive of C&W Optus, Chris Anderson, says he was surprised and disappointed by the ruling. "We could have added value to AAPT and improved its performance," he says.
Then, in June, the ACCC knocked back Coca-Cola's planned acquisition of the local leg of Cadbury Schweppes's soft-drink brands-again. The commission would not countenance a deal, which effectively would have given Coke 97% of the post-mix marketing in Australia's pubs and clubs.
As Global Finance went to press, share investors and brokers were waiting with bated breath for the commission's final decision on a proposed merger between the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and the Sydney Futures Exchange. The A$260 million merger would give the new entity more clout in its negotiations with regional stock exchanges in Asia. …