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Australia competition watchdog seeks bigger fines for breaches

[SYDNEY] Australia's competition regulator is seeking higher fines to deter corporate wrongdoing, amid concern companies see low penalties as just a cost of doing business and don't understand the seriousness of their breaches.

Australia's courts have shown encouraging signs in lifting fines, following decisions against Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, Macquarie Group Ltd and Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, Rod Sims, the chairman of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission said in a speech in Sydney Friday.

Reckitt Benckiser's fine for making misleading representations about its Nurofen Specific Pain products was in December lifted to A$6 million (S$6.54 million) after the ACCC appealed the original A$1.7 million penalty.

In a separate case, the Federal Court said it would have ordered higher penalties than an agreed settlement with ANZ Bank and Macquarie.

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"The ACCC welcomes the message from these Federal Court judges that we must work to ensure that penalties are sufficiently high to deter large companies from contravening the law," Mr Sims told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch, according to a transcript of his speech on the regulator's website.

The regulator will continue to advocate for higher legislated penalties during the Australian Consumer Law review, while making concerted efforts to ensure penalties sought in the courts make businesses and their workers consider their legal obligations, Mr Sims said.

The push has potential ramifications in cases against Kimberly-Clark Corp and Pental Ltd, Volkswagen AG, Kraft Heinz Co and Medibank Private Ltd that are currently before the courts.

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