Daily Telegraph, 3rd of October
Competition fairness crucial to help economy bloom
Suppose you open the first florist in your suburb. As a local trader, you pride yourself on being part of the community. Like most companies, you rely on the internet for much of your business, so you go online to see how you might improve your digital presence.
That’s when you notice something amiss. A mystery florist is showing up in your suburb too. The search results boast that they have ‘the finest quality flowers’ in the suburb, and crows about its ‘fantastic local service’.
The trouble is, they don’t have any local presence at all. In fact, the mystery florist operates out of large warehouses and has thousands of webpages to create the impression it’s a local business in suburbs across Australia.
That’s what the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission uncovered last year. As a result of their investigation, several national online retailers already admitted to gilding the lily and making misleading representations about being local florists when they were nothing of the sort. By giving the impression they were based in the local community these larger online businesses were unfairly diverting business away from legitimate local florists.
In many instances small businesses are consumers too and like the rest of us they need larger businesses to be honest with them. In a recent Australian example, energy retailer Blue NRG drew the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s ire after it told around 500 business customers it had a legal right to increase electricity prices under fixed-rate contracts. In fact, it had no such legal right. The competition watchdog issued a warning about making misleading or deceptive statements about prices. This was especially problematic given the cost pressures facing many small businesses.
Small businesses often find themselves at a significant disadvantage when negotiating to supply goods and services to bigger businesses. Two years ago, the competition watchdog recognised this by providing an exemption from competition law that enables small businesses to collectively negotiate with their customers and suppliers. After notifying the commission, over seventy small business collectives have now taken advantage of this exemption, in a wide range of sectors across the economy.Read more
Weekend Australian, 30th September 2023
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BOOM POSES BIG RISKS FOR COMPETITION
The rise of AI engines has been remarkable. To reach 100 million users, the telephone took 75 years. The mobile phone took 16 years. ChatGPT took two months.
The progress of these systems can be seen by looking at their performance on tasks that humans find difficult. Compare Chat GPT’s old version 3.5 (released in 2022) with its new version 4 (released in 2023). Faced with the New York bar exam, the old model scored at the 10th percentile. The new model aces the test at the 90th percentile. And that’s just one year’s improvement.
People are using AI in ingenious ways. A garden designer who specialises in ultra-high-density planting arrangements uses AI to provide inspiration in choosing species that fit together. Software engineers use AI for everything from writing complex Excel formulas to debugging computer code. If you’ve never programmed a website, AI will write the code for you.
But what will AI do for competition? On the optimistic side, AI can be a valuable competitive force in product and service markets. It might help small firms scale faster – placing pressure on lazy incumbents. If all firms have access to similar quality AI, it can have a democratising effect on the economy, potentially boosting dynamism.
However, AI also poses five risks for competition.
First, costly chips. Currently only a handful of companies have the cloud and computing resources necessary to build and train AI systems. This means that any rival AI start-up must pay to licence server infrastructure from these firms. Computing power, including the development of AI systems, also relies on access to currently costly and scarce semiconductor chips. In generative AI chips, Nvidia’s market share now exceeds 70 percent.
Second, private data. The latest AI models from Google and Meta are trained on about one trillion words. Companies that hold large troves of data, including Reddit and X, are blocking open access to those who might use them to train their large language models. Data access could potentially push the AI market towards a less competitive outcome.
Third, network effects. By observing which responses meet user demands, generative AI systems are able to steadily improve the relevance and accuracy of its outputs. Just as Google search learns from users, so too does Google’s AI engine, Bard. This means that network effects could fuel market power, entrenching the position of the strongest platforms. If AI engines are natural monopolies, then competition regulators ought to worry.
6PR MONEY NEWS WITH KARALEE KATSAMBANIS
THURSDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Qantas appearance at Senate Inquiry into Aviation, Employment White Paper, TAFE Centres of Excellence, Consultations into changes to charities commission’s secrecy provisions, Minting of new coins with King Charles effigy.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS (HOST): We're going to catch up now as we do with the Honourable Dr Andrew Leigh, who, as we know, is Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, as well as Employment. Just giving us a wrap up of what's been happening in Canberra this week. Dr. Leigh. Good evening.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT CHARITIES, COMPETITION, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Good evening, Karalee. Great to be back on Money News with you and your listeners.
KATSAMBANIS: Oh, lovely to have you. Look, I know that we're a bit pressed for time, a few things I want to canvass with you. First of all, Qantas, I mean, we've seen Richard Goyder, we've seen Vanessa Hudson front up in front of the Senate inquiry. We heard the shocking revelations yesterday that Qatar Airways actually heard about what was going on through the Australian media rather than through the Federal Government. Do you think they deserve better? Do you think the Australian taxpayers deserve better?Read more
ABC BRISBANE DRIVE WITH JOHN TAYLOR
THURSDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Strengthening charities; Building community.
JOHN TAYLOR (HOST): Consultations have opened on federal legislation to improve the integrity of the charity sector. Draft legislation has been released and it revolves around the ability of the regulator to disclose whether it's investigating alleged misconduct by a charity. Bear in mind, there are about 60,000 registered charities in Australia. Federal MP Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Charities and joins us now. I suppose, Mr Leigh, why are you doing this?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT CHARITIES, COMPETITION, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Well, John, the problem that the charities commission has had in the past is that you'll have a scandal on some Sunday night TV show and on Monday morning, people are asking the question, what's the regulator doing about it? And under their current secrecy provisions, the charities commission isn't allowed to say; "we're on the job, we're looking into it".
So we're changing the rules so that in instances where it's clearly in the public interest, the charities commission is able to say we're investigating. And in certain circumstances, they're able to say that an investigation has been concluded that'll bring the charities commission into line with other similar agencies in Australia and other similar counterparts overseas.Read more
CONSULTATIONS OPEN ON LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE THE INTEGRITY OF THE CHARITY SECTOR
The Albanese Government has opened public consultations on proposed amendments to secrecy provisions which presently limit the ability of the charities commission to disclose investigations to the public
The exposure draft released today amends the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 to allow the charities commission to disclose whether it is investigating alleged misconduct by a charity, subject to a safeguard of a public harm test.
ABC CANBERRA DRIVE WITH ANNA VIDOT
MONDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Employment White Paper, National Skills Passport, Employment for Older Australians, King’s effigy on coins.
ANNA VIDOT (HOST): I'm joined by the Member for Fenner here in the ACT, also the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, Treasury and Employment, Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYER, CHARITIES, COMPETITION AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Pleasure, Anna. Great to be with you and your listeners.
VIDOT: Why was an Employment White Paper something that was needed, in your view, at this time?
LEIGH: Well, we were really inspired by the work that John Curtin did during World War II where, while the fighting was still raging, he set HC ("Nugget") Coombs and other Canberra economists to the task of producing a Full Employment White Paper, and that White Paper which came down in 1945 really set the stage for a post‑war decade of full employment, and for shared prosperity.
We often forget that the 1920s and 1930s were a period of double‑digit unemployment for a lot of the time, and unemployment was brought massively down after the war.
The full Employment White Paper that we've brought down today is about taking the same opportunities in a different context to maintain full employment for everyone into the future, so that we have secure, fairly‑paid jobs for everyone who wants one, and a qualified worker for every employer who needs one. That's about skills, it's about immigration, it's also about making sure our income support system's right.Read more
WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? EXISTENTIAL RISK AND EXTREME POLITICS
EAGxAustralia Conference, Effective Altruism Australia, Melbourne
Friday, 22 September 2023
I acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations as traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I acknowledge any First Nations people and businesses represented here today. I commit myself to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which starts by voting Yes on October 14.
Much of what we focus on in politics centres on immediate challenges. This week, I’ve participated in discussions about competition policy and randomised trials, community-building and economic dynamism. These are important issues for Australia’s future.
But the EAGxAustralia conference provides an opportunity to think about existential risk – about dangers not only to our way of life, but to our lives themselves.
In a busy life, it’s easy to confuse the improbable with the impossible.
What would happen if you decided to cross the road without checking the traffic? Odds are that you’d survive unscathed. But do it enough times and you’re likely to come a cropper.
That’s where catastrophic risk comes in.Read more
ABC CANBERRA BREAKFAST WITH ADAM SHIRLEY
FRIDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Catastrophic risk
ADAM SHIRLEY (HOST): Well, there’s perhaps a one in six chance of a species-ending event, according to MP for Fenner and Assistant Minister in the Federal Government, Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh, good morning to you.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning, Adam.
SHIRLEY: I must admit, reading about your contention and the way you've kind of gathered this information together, I did get a few don't look up vibes. I'm a bit worried.Read more
START UPS, UPSTARTS AND COMPETITION
International Small Business Summit, Melbourne
Friday, 22 September 2023
I acknowledge the people of the Kulin Nations as traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I acknowledge any First Nations people and businesses represented here today. I commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation in full of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including voting Yes for a Voice to Parliament.
Thank you to the Small Business Association of Australia for hosting today’s summit. It comes at a time when our government is providing around one million small businesses with direct energy bill relief.
We’re also putting in place the Small Business Energy Incentive to help businesses with annual turnover of less than $50 million save on their energy bills.
We’re improving small business cash flow by halving the rate of increase of quarterly tax instalments for GST and income tax.
And we’re making it easier for small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $10 million to invest and grow through the $20,000 instant asset write-off.
Under the leadership of Small Business Minister Julie Collins and Treasurer Jim Chalmers, the Albanese Government is tackling cost pressures now and we’re laying the foundations for growth in the decades to come. Competition policy is central to both of those goals and that’s my focus for today.Read more
2CC CANBERRA DRIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
THURSDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER 2023
LEON DELANEY: There are plenty of older people that really pay no attention to politics at all, and yet they still have the right to vote. So why should it be different for 16 and 17-year-olds, especially when they're entitled to be in the workplace, and would be required to pay taxes, and as Johnathan Davis said to me last week, it's a good old conservative principle, no taxation without representation. Well, why not? I think, you know, if you're going to make the move, I'm quite okay with that.
Now, not everybody will agree, and that's why we have debate about the matter, and I presume the motion today, as far as I know, failed, so the age limit for voting is not going to change here in the ACT. But if it ever did, I think I'm okay with that. I think I'm okay with that. 12 past five, on 2CC, it's Canberra Live.
Our Federal Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, what do you think about that?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Leon, we've been concerned about the interaction with compulsory voting. Compulsory voting is one of the touchstones of Australian democracy. That notion that everyone participates in the democracy, that ours is a 100 per cent democracy, not a 50 per cent democracy as you see in other places.
So the challenge with extending the voting age down to 16 and 17‑year‑olds has always been this question of compulsion. Some people say that it should be voluntary, and that risks undermining compulsory voting. Others say it should be compulsory, and that risks seeing a whole slew of 16 and 17‑year‑olds fined for not casting a valid vote.
So this is the thing ‑Read more