Kieran Salsone

Is it time to crack down on big businesses getting bigger?

BIG business in Australia is becoming so powerful that it is beginning to worry the man charged with keeping them honest.

The largest and most powerful firms in development, energy, mining, media and retail are increasingly becoming "superstar companies" as the already-massive companies combine their firepower with their equally powerful competitors.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said of the Australia's top 100 businesses on the ASX, only 29 of those remain in 2016. Of those, 61 had merged or been bought by other companies.

The behemoth firms that remain include the big four banks, Stockland, Wesfarmers, BHP Billiton, Lend Lease, and News Corp.

Mr Sims poses the question: should companies be allowed to merge into these giant operators, and when they do, what does it mean for customers?

For example, the number of petrol stations in Australia has fallen from 20,000 in 1970 to about 6000 today.

The prospect of a new competitor joining the fray seems all-but-impossible.

Mr Sims questions whether Australia should follow the path of the United States where major mergers are put to the test by the courts to defend their plans.

In those instances, the market is considered to be working so if there was to be a major change, the firms need to prove why it is necessary and how it will benefit the community.

In Australia, that is not required.

"From a competition perspective, what we need to understand is whether smaller rivals or new entrants can readily contest the position of larger, more established firms," he said.

"We should, therefore, have an eye to how often the identity of large firms change."


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