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Trans-Tasman regulator info-sharing a step closer

Friday 4th May 2012

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Legislation enabling antitrust regulators in Australia and New Zealand to share information is a step closer after languishing at the bottom of the government's programme for two years.

The Commerce Commission (International Cooperation and Fees) Bill passed its second reading in Parliament yesterday with unanimous support.

The legislation has been sitting near the bottom of the order paper since it was first introduced in September 2008, having passed its first reading in May 2010, something Commerce Minister Craig Foss put down to the government's "significant legislative programme."

Foss tabled a supplementary order paper to amend the Telecommunications Act to "promote enhanced cooperation between the Commerce Commission and overseas regulators with respect to telecommunications investigations," such as issues relating to international mobile roaming, he told the House.

The bill was flagged as one of the laggards in the February Trans-Tasman Outcomes Implementation Group (TTOIG) report, which monitors the progression towards a single economic market between New Zealand and Australia.

Once passed, the bill will let the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission and New Zealand's Commerce Commission and other foreign antitrust regulators share confidential information for enforcement efforts.

The minister adopted the Commerce Committee's recommendations to let regulator cooperation agreements to be used as an alternative to intergovernmental arrangements and also to protect New Zealand's economic interests.

"It will ensure that the commission will provide assistance that aligns with our international trade interests," he said.

Members of Parliament who spoke to the bill were generally glowing in their support of the legislation, though Labour MP David Cunliffe took a jab at the government's apparent stance on a single economic market from "doing what is in New Zealand's national interests, which one would have thought was their day job, to doing what is in the joint interests of Australia and New Zealand."

The danger in taking that position is that "New Zealand's interests tend to get a bit swamped by the big fella over the ditch," Cunliffe said.

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